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Northeast Australia hit by Cyclone Debbie, substantial damage in some areas

The Australian army headed into areas hardest hit by Cyclone Debbie and tens of thousands of homes remained without power as dawn broke on March 29 amid reports of substantial damage in some areas. Debbie reportedly left a trail of destruction through northeast Australia on March 28 as a category four storm, one level below the most dangerous wind speed, before being gradually downgraded through the night to a tropical low.

Thousands of people took shelter as tourist resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and mainland coastal areas were belted with wind gusts stronger than 260 km per hour (160 mph), while others took to the surf.

There were early reports of significant structural damage to homes and public infrastructure after howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas. Two people were injured, one with serious head injuries after being hit by a falling wall, police said. More than 51,000 homes were without power. Queensland state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it appeared the worst-hit areas were the tourist magnet of the Whitsunday Islands off the coast and Airlie Beach and Proserpine, some 900 km (560 miles) northwest of the Queensland capital, Brisbane.

Wind gusts of 262 kmh, the highest during the storm, were recorded on Hamilton Island, so it was expected to be hit hard, although its resorts were designed to withstand category 5 storms. Cyclone Debbie made landfall at Airlie Beach, north of Proserpine, shortly after midday local time (0200 GMT) on Tuesday, knocking out telephone services. Authorities had urged thousands of people in threatened areas to flee their homes on Monday, in what would have been the biggest evacuation seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy devastated the northern city of Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

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