A powerful cyclone slammed into Australia's tropical northeast coast on Tuesday, tearing down fences, snapping trees, and knocking out power to tens of thousands of houses, officials say. The destructive eyewall of Cyclone Debbie, a Category 4 storm packing winds up to 160mph, made landfall near Airlie Beach, a resort town in Queensland state, the AP reports. Officials warned that the slow-moving storm was likely to hover over the region for several hours before weakening as it moved inland. Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart says the cyclone's glacial pace has created a "battering ram effect," with some areas enduring the howling winds and drenching rains for a punishingly long time.
The Whitsunday Islands have been pummeled by fierce winds that damaged roofs and knocked down palm trees, and communities along more than 200 miles of coastline were expected to be impacted. "I suspect before the day is out, we will see a lot of structural damage in the cyclone's path," Stewart says. Thousands of people evacuated low-lying areas in the storm's path on Monday. Hundreds of schools were closed on Tuesday and more than 50,000 households were without power by mid-afternoon. "Conditions have deteriorated rapidly," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in an address to Parliament. "Take care and stay safe. Be prepared to shelter in place until Wednesday." (Read more Australia stories.)