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Ex Tropical Cyclone Marcia Downgraded As Residents Clean Up

UPDATE 12:41pm (AEST):

Seven-hundred Australian Defence Force soldiers are being sent to the worst hit areas from Cyclone Marcia to help locals in the aftermath of the destructive category five storm.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the ADF were ready to send separate batches of soldiers from both Townsville and Brisbane to Rockhampton and Yeppoon, which were both hit by Marcia on Friday.

The state disaster management committee were briefed by the ADF on Saturday morning in Brisbane.

"They have 350 soldiers available to travel from Brisbane and 350 soldiers available to travel from Townsville," Ms Palaszczuk said.

"They also have helicopters on stand-by if needed."

Ms Palaszczuk is also preparing to travel to Rockhampton and Yeppoon where more than 550 properties were destroyed in the cyclone and tens of thousands of homes left without power.

The premier said 89 per cent of properties in Rockhampton didn't have power and most of Yeppoon was in blackout.

"Power now is the crucial issue and it is going to take some time to restore power," Ms Palaszczuk said.

"Yeppoon has suffered the brunt of the cyclone and it's going to take a lot longer for power to be restored."

She said Ergon had sent 800 staff to the area and Energex was waiting until roads were cleared to send in another 100 staff.

Both Rockhampton and Yeppoon hospitals were up and running on their own stand-alone power sources.

The government is installing generators to power traffic lights in the central business districts of both towns.

The Bruce Highway has been cut south of Rockhampton.

About 56 schools have been damaged and the government expects to provide a list of schools that will be open on Monday.

Ms Palaszczuk also said the governments of NSW and Victoria have offered Queensland any assistance they could provide.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Rob Webb said the storm, which has weakened to a tropical low, was lashing Brisbane and the Gold Coast with heavy rain and strong winds.

He said there would be significant localised flooding, but fears of widespread flooding like in 2011 and 2013 have been played down.

The bureau expects the system to move out to sea on Saturday afternoon.

"We're hoping we can kiss the rest of this weather event goodbye," Mr Webb said.

He said the storm had really "got the rivers going" all the way up to the Capricorn Coast, where the cyclone made landfall at Shoalwater Bay.

Mr Webb said the North Burnett town of Eidsvold was set to experience major flooding, while there would be moderate flooding at Gayndah on Saturday night.

Towns along the Mary River were also set to see moderate flooding including Gympie and Maryborough overnight or on Sunday morning.

Driving rain from Marcia raised the levels of the Callide Dam, causing automatic controls to open the dam gates on Friday night and flood the Callide Creek downstream.

It led to the evacuation of some residents in Jambin and Goovigen.

More than 20 people had been taken to Biloela by helicopter, but 17 remained with two police officers at the Jambin school, which was on higher ground.

Deputy Police Commissioner and disaster co-ordinator Steve Gollschewski stressed people who did not want to be airlifted were not in danger.

"We are very confident they are safe, the water is not rising, they are on high ground and they will be safe," he said.

"However, we will stay with them throughout the duration of this and make sure they are safe and well and have full communications."

The deputy commissioner said there was an aircraft on standby if the situation changed in Jambin.

Previously 8:30am (AEST):

Less than 24 hours after first making contact with land, Cyclone Marcia has been downgraded to a tropical low.

At 1am (AEST) The Bureau of Meteorology issued advice warning that while the system had weakened, heavy rains and gusty winds are still expected.

undefined

Moving south-southeast over the northern Wide Bay district, a Severe Weather Warning has been issued.

Locations which may be affected include Hervey Bay, Kingaroy, Gympie, the Gold Coast, the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich, Brisbane,Caboolture, and the Sunshine Coast.

SEVERE THUNDERSTORM ALERT: Issued for south-east

Winds near the centre of 55 kilometres per hour with wind gusts to 85 kilometres per hour are anticipated by the Bureau.

undefined

The Bureau of Meteorology regional director Rob Webb says southeast Queensland is likely to experience local urban flooding and local flash flooding in some areas.
"People need to be aware there will be that short, sharp rain but we're not expecting days and days of rain," he said on Friday.
The bureau predicts the worst of the rainfall will be over by Sunday morning.

The advice comes as the post-cyclone cleanup gets underway.

See Photos of the aftermath above

The Australian Defence Force will help survey cyclone-hit towns in central Queensland as the region begins counting the cost of Cyclone Marcia.
The fierce category 5 system made landfall near Shoalwater Bay on Friday morning before grazing Yeppoon and passing over Rockhampton.
But there have been no reports of any deaths associated with the cyclone.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says authorities will have a better picture of the impact today.
"We'll have helicopters in the area and also there is a request in with the Australian Defence Force and they will also be carrying out an assessment of the damage in the areas around Rockhampton and Yeppoon," she said on Friday afternoon.
The Disaster Recovery Committee will hold a meeting at 10am.
AAP/Staff Reporters

Previously (8.51pm Friday 20 AEST):

Cyclone Marcia has been downgraded to a Category 1 system.

The Bureau of Meteorology says it is expected to weaken below cyclone strength tonight.

Moving south southeast at 18 kilometres per hour, damaging wind gusts to about 120 km/h are still possible over the next couple of hours.

They are expected to affect the coast and inland between Rockhampton and Double Island Point tonight, including Biloela, Monto, and Mundubbera.

Heavy rainfall is already occurring about coastal and adjacent inland areas between Gladstone and Double Island Point, and is expected to continue tonight and Saturday morning as the cyclone moves south. A Flood Watch is current for the area.

Staff Reporters

Previously (5.55pm AEST):

Cyclone Marcia has been downgraded to a Category 2 system.

The advice was issued by the weather bureau at 5pm on Friday.

It estimated the cyclone was 60 kilometres west of Gladstone and 65 kilometres north-northeast of Biloela, moving at 18km/h

The bureau said the core of the system was expected to hit Biloela bringing wind gusts up to 155km/h

"Gales are occurring or are expected to develop about the coast and adjacent inland between Yeppoon and Double Island Point tonight, including Biloela, Monto and Mundubbera."

The system was expected to turn to the south-southeast on Friday evening and weaken below cyclone strength on Saturday morning.

AAP

Previously (3:48pm AEST):

Cyclone Marcia has caused significant damage in the town of Yeppoon and the city of Rockhampton.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said efforts would continue on Friday afternoon and on Saturday to fully assess the damage in both locations, now the cyclone had passed over Rockhampton.

"We have reports of significant structural damage in Yeppoon, we understand that the surf club may have lost its roof but we do know that homes have had structural damage and we need to assess this structural damage," Ms Palaszczuk said.

The premier said the biggest safety issue in those communities now was downed power lines.

"This poses a significant risk to people. Can I please still urge families: stay inside," she said.

Ms Palaszczuk said the cyclone, which is still a category three, was tracking towards Biloela, and should affect that community by Friday evening.

"It may reduce to a high Category 2 when it goes to Biloela," she said.

The Bureau of Meteorology said wind gusts exceeded 150km/h in Yeppoon, and 110km/h in Rockhampton. There have been no reports of injuries.

Acting Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said the roads to Yeppoon were open and that would help with a quick assessment of the damage.

AAP

Previously (1.39PM AEST):

Cyclone Marcia has damaged homes in the central Queensland town of Yeppoon, and has torn iron from buildings in Rockhampton to the south.
Marcia was a category four storm when it "grazed" the central Queensland town on Friday morning but was downgraded to category three at around 1pm (AEST) as it hit Rockhampton.
So far there are no reports of deaths or serious injuries in either location.
Chris Schwarten, who lives in central Rockhampton, said the storm was wild, and ripped his clothesline out of the ground.
"It's sort of dying off now. But the whole house was rocking for about an hour," he told AAP from his home where he's holed up with his deaf kelpie, Ted.
"A lot of trees have snapped right off. About every 15 minutes you hear another big crack. Even though Ted's deaf, he's still a bit freaked out. He won't leave me alone."
News footage showed sheets of roofing iron tumbling down Rockhampton streets, and trees snapped in half.
Earlier, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urged Rockhampton residents to stay in their homes, with the danger far from over.
She said early reports out of Yeppoon suggested slight damage to homes.
"Our preliminary reports are quite encouraging," she told reporters.
"Over the next hour or two we will get a full assessment."
More than 30,000 properties are without power due to the cyclone.
In Yeppoon, people remain in evacuation centres and in their homes.
Parts of the Yeppoon surf club roof had gone, as had the iron roof of an old home near the waterfront Bayview Tower Motel.
Motel co-manager Colin Smith said the noise at the height of the storm was incredible.
"It's howling. It's whistling. I just can't describe it. I've never heard anything like it before."
Asked about the threats to Brisbane, given how much rain the city has had, the premier said more modelling was being done.
She said the rain across Brisbane and the southeast corner was from a trough separate from the cyclone.
Brisbane lord mayor Graham Quirk is urging caution, but says there are no concerns about the Brisbane River breaking its banks.
He said any flooding would result from creek corridors, with winds gusting to 90km/h also expected.
At this stage, Seqwater is not expecting to have to release water from Wivenhoe Dam, upstream from Brisbane.
There is a slight possibility it will have to if rainfall hits the maximum levels of the 200-500mm predicted by the weather bureau this week.
"A judgment will be made over the coming 24, 48 hours," an Seqwater spokeswoman said.
"If a gate release is required ... depending on the amount of water that is released there may be some roads or low lying bridges affected."
AAP

Previously (12:19PM AEST):

Cyclone Marcia has damaged homes in the central Queensland town of Yeppoon, but there's no clear picture of the scale of the destruction.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the cyclone, which is now a category four storm, "grazed" Yeppoon, and was now on a direct southward path to Rockhampton.

"It has grazed Yeppoon, and is now headed directly towards Rockhampton," she told reporters.

"The eye of the cyclone is heading directly to the path of Rockhampton."

She said initial reports from Yeppoon indicated trees were down, and there was "slight" damage to houses.

"Our preliminary reports are quite encouraging," she said, but added she did not yet have a clear picture.

"Over the next hour or two we will get a full assessment."

The premier said the focus now was shifting to a proper assessment of the damage at Yeppoon, and she said so far there were no reports of injuries there.

Focus is also turning to Rockhampton, where Marcia is expected to hit as a category three storm system on Friday afternoon.

Wind gusts over 100km/h are already being felt in Rockhampton, and there are reports of flooding in the city.

"So my message to all of Rockhampton residents is please stay indoors," the premier said.

"The eye of this storm is headed directly towards you. Stay inside, do not be out on the streets, do not be outside."

AAP

Previously (10:27am AEST):

Cyclone Marcia's force is being unleashed on the central Queensland town of Yeppoon, where roofs are beginning to peel off.

Winds of at least 200km/h are starting to do real damage in the town of 16,000, with the category five storm also unleashing gusts as strong as 285km/h.

AAP reporter Nathan Paull, who is in the town centre, said the situation was deteriorating rapidly.

undefined

Photo: Surging tides from Cyclone Marcia hit Main Beach in Yeppoon (AAP)

Winds are still well below the peaks that are expected and they're damaging buildings along the waterfront thoroughfare called The Strand.

"The roller doors have just blown off our hotel and the roof is coming off the surf club across the road," he said.

The damage is only expected to escalate as the core of the cyclone passes over the town around 11.15 AEST.

AAP

Previously (9.59am AEST):

A storm surge of up to three metres beyond a normal high tide is expected as category five Cyclone Marcia batters the central Queensland coast.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said parts of the state were in the grip of a terrifying and potentially deadly weather event.

The cyclone has made landfall at Shoalwater Bay, about 70km north of the town of Yeppoon, which is expected to be battered during the next few hours.

Ms Palaszczuk says the cyclone's winds are very destructive and updated advice on the size of the storm surge is worrying.

"We now have advice that the storm surge that was predicted to be at 2.6 metres above the high tide is now forecast to be three metres above the high tide," she said.

She said the 16,000 people in the Yeppoon area were facing a very serious situation, yet there were reports of people still on the streets and yet to take shelter.

"You are putting your lives and others at risk. Please stop driving, return to your homes immediately," she said.

About 600 people are currently holed up at Yeppoon's mail shelter at a local high school, and others are also open.

But as the worst of Marcia's ferocity hits Yeppoon, those evacuation centres will be put into lockdown.

"We now only have a (narrow) window of opportunity here over the next couple of hours and probably within the next hour or so, emergency personnel will be taken off the road and will be actually closing down those shelters," the premier said.

She said everyone must be in safe locations by the time emergency personnel withdraw for their own protection.

Airports in the cyclone-battered region have been closed, and the Yeppoon and Rockhampton hospitals are ready to take any casualties.

Residents have also gone to evacuation centres in Sarina and Gladstone, and efforts are underway to get people on offshore islands to safety.

"We had around 100 people on Lady Elliot Island. They are in the process of being evacuated as we speak. On Heron Island we do have some tourists currently there, they are moving to shelters," Ms Palaszczuk said.

Marcia is expected to track south, and hit Rockhampton as a category three cyclone later on Friday.

The premier said Rockhampton authorities were making the necessary preparations for an event that had the potential to cause significant damage there as well.

"Queenslanders, we are with you every step of the way. We are with you, our thoughts and our prayers are with you during this time," she said.

"This is going to be a harrowing and terrifying time. The noise will be extreme and we want everyone to be safe."

The premier said Prime Minister Tony Abbott had offered assistance, and talks were underway with the Australian Defence Force to ensure supplies could reach communities after the cyclone passed.

Across Queensland, 134 schools have been closed, along with 43 childcare centres.

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the state was facing an extremely dangerous situation.

"There has not been a blow like this in central Queensland for many years," he told reporters.

He said there should be no one left on the streets of Yeppoon now, and emergency personnel were beginning to pull back in that town now for their own safety.

"From where the cyclone is now to Yeppoon is less than 50km," he said.

And people further south in Rockhampton and Gladstone must be in the final stages of preparation.

"You have only got one or two hours extra to get yourself locked down, to get yourself safe. This monster is on its way."

He said it was too early for authorities to have a handle on any damage so far, including around Shoalwater Bay where the cyclone made landfall.

AAP

Previously (8.02am AEST):

Authorities say it's now too late for Queenslanders to evacuate, as monster Cyclone Marcia bears down on 30,000 people who are in the direct path of the category five storm.

The core of the cyclone is now starting to affect parts of the central Queensland coast, with the town of Yeppoon to feel the full brunt of its winds and its destructive storm surge, which could destroy low-lying homes.

Marcia is packing winds gusting to 285km/h, a force that's expected to destroy older homes in the area that have not been built to modern cyclone standards.

At about 7.45am (AEST), the cyclone was less than 100km from Yeppoon.

State Emergency Services Assistant Commissioner Peter Jeffrey says the time for preparations has passed.

"It's time to essentially brace, make safe for yourself, and make safe for your family," he told the Nine Network.

undefinedPhoto: Satellite image via bom.gov.au

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the 30,000 people who live in Yeppoon and surrounding communities are most at risk.

But the threat extends to a vast swathe of the coast, with a 2.6-metre storm surge expected on top of the normal high tide level.

Rockhampton, south of Yeppoon, is also in the firing line with Marcia still expected to be a strong category three cyclone when it hits there, after tracking south over land.

"We are talking about severe damage here," Ms Palaszczuk told reporters on Friday morning.

"Over the next few hours many thousands of Queenslanders are about to go through a harrowing and terrifying experience and I want those people to know that we are with you every step of the way. We will be standing by your side."

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the situation was desperate.

"This is going to be a calamity there is no doubt about that," he said.

"Even our emergency services personnel will be withdrawing and they will be going to places of safety so that they are ready as soon as the eye has passed, as soon as the danger has passed, to assist member of the public."

In Yeppoon, about 600 people are taking shelter in an evacuation centre.

"They are quite concerned ... not knowing what the impact is," centre manager Robert Ferguson told Nine Network.

"Some of them are anxious given the devastation (that) could be out there."

Ms Palaszczuk said she would be speaking to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday afternoon, to discuss what help could be provided for what would be a terrifying and destructive event in the state's history.

Meanwhile, two fishermen who went missing in the Cyclone Marcia warning zone have been found safe and well.

Queensland Police confirmed the men had been sighted and a water police boat was on its way to pick them up.

They were found at the northern end of Moon Boom Island.

AAP

Previously (7:01am AEST):

Category Five Cyclone Marcia is expected to cross the Queensland coast at about 8am (AEST), packing wind gusts close to 300 kilometres an hour.

It's expected to make landfall in the Yeppoon area about 8am (AEST), Brian Cox, from the State Disaster Co-ordination Centre in Brisbane, told ABC radio.

"The system has sped up a little bit more. We're seeing the eye approaching the coast near Yeppoon," he said.

"We're anticipating that around 8am it's going to cross that coast line."

He said the timing couldn't be worse, with the landfall time expected very close to the peak of the high tide at 10am (AEST), compounding the risk of flooding from the dangerous storm surge the cyclone will bring.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been briefed by the heads of the state's emergency authorities.

People have been self-evacuating from towns in the firing line of the powerful storm, including at Yeppoon, where an emergency alert went out by text telling people in low lying areas to move.

A dramatic search is playing out for two fishermen missing off Fraser Island, in the cyclone warning area.

Police say the men, both aged in their 30s, sent a text message to a relative on Thursday morning saying their boat had sunk.

But for whatever reason the alert wasn't raised with police until Thursday afternoon.

An initial search on Thursday found nothing and has resumed early on Friday.

A break in conditions has allowed a chopper to get up, and the water police and coast guard are also on their way to the search area, near the Moon Boom island groups in the Sandy Straits off Fraser Island.

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The premier said the full brunt of the cyclone would be felt in the Yeppoon area.

"We are now very concerned with human safety," she told reporters.

She said evacuations had been going on in Yeppoon and nearby low lying areas along the coast.

She said 870 homes would be affected.

"These people have been door knocked and told to evacuate," she said.

Ms Palaszczuk said the cyclone is expected to later hit Rockhampton as a category three system.

"This is also extremely serious," she said of the threat to Rockhampton.

"Can I please say to all of our residents in Yeppoon and the Rockhampton region: your safety is now paramount.

"We want you to stay in your homes. Please do not leave your homes this morning. Do not go outside under any circumstances."

The premier said a very dangerous storm surge would occur in many communities along the coast.

"That storm surge will be 2.6 metres above what is normal at a high tide," she said.

"This is very serious. I can't stress (enough), if you are in a low lying area you will be evacuated. Listen to the authorities and you must go with them."

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said a disaster was looming for parts of Queensland.

"This is going to be a calamity, there is no doubt about that," he said.

He said even emergency services would be withdrawing from the cyclone's strike zone in coming hours.

"They will be going to places of safety, so that they are ready as soon as the eye has passed," Mr Stewart said.

"As soon as the danger has passed, they can get out and assist member of the public."

The premier said the greatest concern was for Yeppoon and the communities immediately surrounding it.

But she said everyone from Sarina to Double Island Point must remain on full alert in case the storm changed course.

She said there were 16,000 people in Yeppoon.

"But that region contains around 30,000," she said.

"And there's the heavily populated areas around Rockhampton, they are going to feel the full force of a Category three storm as well."

Ms Palaszczuk said she would be speaking to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday afternoon, to discuss what help could be provided for what would be a terrifying and destructive event in the state's history.

AAP

PREVIOUSLY (6:09AM AEST):

Cyclone Marcia has intensified to a powerful category 5 storm, with wind gusts up to 295km/h, as it continues to head towards the Queensland coast.

The storm is expected to make landfall as a category 5 system, between St Lawrence and Hervey Bay around 10am (AEST) on Friday.

Marcia has not done as emergency services had hoped and come straight in on the central Queensland coast.
Instead it has tracked south, allowing it to stay over the sea and continue to build in strength.

Instead it has tracked south, allowing it to stay over the sea and continue to build in strength.

The intimidating power of the cyclone has even forced the closure of a cyclone shelter at St Lawrence, amid fears it wouldn't withstand the storm.

About 90 residents who'd been taking shelter there have moved north to take shelter at nearby Sarina.

Residents between Sarina and Double Island Point have been warned to take shelter in a safe place, and police have been doorknocking low lying parts of the Capricorn coast urging people to leave.

That includes residents of Yeppoon and Emu Park, just north of Rockhampton.

Gales are already hitting parts of the coast between Sarina and Double Island Point, and are expected to affect inland areas throughout Friday.

Even after Marcia crosses the coast, its strength is expected to endure and it could still be a category three storm by the time it reaches the Rockhampton region.

The Bureau of Meteorology says the destructive winds will inevitably cause damage to buildings and other infrastructure, and the storm swell the cyclone will generate will come on the top of king tides to pose a very significant flooding threat.

undefinedPhoto: Cyclone Marcia captured by a NASA Satellite 11pm, 19 Feb 2015 (AAP)

The bureau's senior forecaster Sam Campbell said the situation was very serious for those in the storm's path.

"This is an extremely dangerous system. There's likely to be significant damage to roofs, buildings, debris flying through the air, widespread power failures and really the potential for widespread destruction over the warning area," he told the ABC.

He said that applied to communities between Sarina and Double Island Point, but the main focus was on the area from St Lawrence to Bundaberg, where current forecasts have the cyclone making landfall.

People in low lying areas of Yeppoon, one of the central Queensland towns in the firing line, have been urged to leave their homes, due to the threat of a dangerous storm surge.

Elderly residents in hotels along the beach were piled on to buses bound for two emergency shelters set up in the town.

People were also sent mobile phone alerts around 4am AEST to warn them of the increased threat in the area.
"Urgent evacuation recommended," it read.

"Leave by 5am to friends, family or PCC Matthew Flinders Drive (evacuation centre)."

There was some confusion when the message was sent more broadly than it was intended, including to some Yeppoon areas in high lying areas.

Authorities have since said the evacuation warning only applies to those in low lying parts of the town.

Police and SES crews are also door knocking in some low lying areas, including in Yeppoon, Moulamein Beach, Causeway Lake and Kina Beach.

Brian Cox, from the State Disaster Coordination Centre in Brisbane, said the latest tracking map, which was indicative only, suggested a direct hit on Yeppoon.

"But that can change," he told ABC radio.

So far there had been 1200 requests for help from the SES, although many of these had been calls for assistance to sandbag properties.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is currently attending a briefing with the heads of the state's emergency authorities.

The bureau's latest cyclone advice, issued at 5.56am (AEST), said Marcia remained a category five storm.

The warning zone stretches from Sarina to Double Island Point, extending inland to Moura, Biloela, Monto, Taroom, Mundubbera, and Murgon.

A cyclone warning from Mackay to Sarina has been cancelled.

Marcia is expected to continue moving in a southerly direction towards the Queensland coast, and make landfall between St Lawrence and Hervey Bay later on Friday.

Just before 6am (AEST), Marcia had sustained winds near the centre of 205km/h, with wind gusts to 285km/h. It's estimated to be 110km east northeast of St Lawrence and 130km north of Yeppoon, moving south at 18km/h.

AAP

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