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Cyclone Debbie barrels for Queensland coast ‘like a battering ram’

QUEENSLAND, Australia — Torrential rain and violent winds lashed residents along the coast of northeast Australia as Tropical Cyclone Debbie churned closer to shore Tuesday.

The slow-moving Category 4 cyclone is now pounding popular tourist islands off the Queensland coast, and is expected to hit the mainland within hours.

“Scariest thing I’ve ever gone through,” Sassha Kozachenko said on Instagram. On Airlie Beach, detritus and debris could be seen hurtling through the air in videos posted on social media.

The cyclone is the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane and very slow-moving.

“With the very, very strong winds if they just sit there and twirl, it’s like a battering ram,” Queensland police commissioner Ian Stewart told CNN affiliate 7 News.

The storm already has ripped trees from the ground and brought significant rainfall to the region.

Residents reported their apartments shaking and windows breaking. Pristine beaches that were bright and sunny Monday were completely flooded Tuesday.

“This is going to get worse,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told Nine News Queensland.

Cyclone Debbie is expected to make landfall between the town of Bowen and Airlie Beach mid-afterrnoon with wind gusts up 270 kph (167 mph), according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Though thousands of residents of Queensland were ordered to evacuate in the lead-up to the storm, the time to leave is over. “I need people and families to remain in place,” Palaszczuk said.

In the span of an hour, 211 millimeters (8 inches) of rain hit the area, Palaszczuk said. It was a once-in-a-hundred year event, she said.

The severe weather has already claimed the life of a 31-year-old woman after dangerous conditions were linked to a fatal car crash Monday near the town of Proserpine.

Residents along the coast have been warned to expect storm surges up to four meters high.

Cyclone Debbie is the largest storm to hit Queensland since the Category 5 Cyclone Yasi in 2011, which ripped homes from their foundations and destroyed farmland. Debbie could end up being as severe as Yasi, Palaszczuk warned.

Storm surge

John D Ginger, research director at the Cyclone Testing Station at James Cook University, said that coastal buildings were most at risk.

“Houses in low-lying coastal regions … and [which] are subjected to storm surge will be vulnerable to significant damage,” he said.

The timing of cyclone Debbie’s expected landfall coincides with a 12-foot tide in Bowen, one of the highest tides of the year, according to 7 News.

“If you are in a storm surge zone and you are directed to leave — you must leave. You cannot shelter from a storm surge,” Queensland police tweeted Monday.

Over 1,000 emergency service workers have been sent to the region in preparation, and all schools remain closed until further notice, 7 News reported.