Let’s not repeat history: Lessons learnt from Cyclone Yasi

“Debbie is probably the most significant tropical cyclone since Yasi… mostly because of its size, it’s quite a sizeable system” - Bureau of Meteorology.

As Tropical Cyclone Debbie looms off the north Queensland coast, many residents will inevitably be having flashbacks to the last time a storm of such severity crossed their shores.

Cyclone Yasi hit the coast communities of Mission Beach, Cardwell and Tully in February 2011 as a category 5 storm. The damage at the cyclone’s “ground zero” was extensive, with hundreds of properties destroyed and hundreds more left uninhabitable. The area was also under threat from inundation from large storm surges in the wake of the cyclone.

Tropical Cyclone Yasi was one of the most powerful cyclones to have affected Queensland since records commenced.

Tropical Cyclone Yasi was one of the most powerful cyclones to have affected Queensland since records commenced. Photo: Bureau of Meterology

An estimated 400,000 people lived in the region hit by the ‘monster’ storm, miraculously there were no lives lost.

Former Queensland Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts acknowledged at the time, the outcome could have been much worse.

“The potential was there [for significant loss of life], this was the worst cyclone this country has experienced for 100 years,” Mr Roberts said.

“But due to good planning and a good response by disaster management groups and local councils we have been able to keep everyone safe.”

The Bureau of Meteorology said it expected Debbie to make landfall as a category 4 between Townsville and Proserpine tomorrow morning, but it hadn’t ruled out the possibility of it intensifying further to a category 5.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk briefed the media today and warned locals to expect winds stronger than were felt during Cyclone Yasi.

“We’re already seeing wind gusts up to 100km/h in the Whitsunday region and around Proserpine,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“It’s going to get worse through the day.

Authorities have predicted TC Debbie would bring winds of up to 260km/h, heavy rainfall of more than 400mm and a storm surge which would coincide with a king-tide, leading to serious threat of inundation of hundreds of homes.

Police-enacted evacuations of low-lying suburbs in Burdekin, Whitsunday and Townsville regions have already begun, and residents in the watch zone have been told to have their emergency plans in place in the event they’re ordered to leave their homes.

Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski reinforced the Premier’s message, and urged north Queenslanders to heed emergency services advice.

“If you are in a storm surge zone and are directed to move, you must move,” Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said.

“You can shelter in your house from wind, but you can’t shelter from a storm surge.”

Current predictions have TC Debbie crossing the coastline at Ayr by 10am tomorrow morning as a category 4 storm.