Taxis offer to evacuate locals for free as Cyclone Debbie approaches
Taxi drivers have offered to evacuate residents for free as Cyclone Debbie bears down on the north Queensland coast.
Cabbies in Townsville, Mackay, the Whitsundays, Burdekin and Ayr were all on-board with the idea, which would see them partner with local SES to help evacuate vulnerable residents and transport emergency services around the warning areas without charge.
Townsville Taxis general manager Angela Rheeders said north Queensland cabbies were "really community focused" and said it was "really heart-warming" to see so many different north Queensland regions teaming up during such a tense time.
She added that by helping out whenever possible, taxis were freeing up emergency services vehicles so they could be used for other important work.
Taxi Council Queensland president Max McBride described Cyclone Debbie as "a big sucker" and echoed Ms Rheeders' message of helping local residents.
"It's important all of the resources we can muster are available to help communities be prepared."
He added cabbies had offered similar support during previous extreme weather events. Mr McBride said when Cyclone Marcia ripped through Rockhampton and Yeppoon in 2015, taxis were ferrying local residents up until about two hours before the worst of the weather hit.
He even recalled pulling maxi taxis from service on the day because they were being blown off the road by the strong winds coming through the area, five hours before the main cyclone arrived.
Locals continued to evacuate on Monday morning, as the category 2 cyclone turned west on its final approach to the coast.
Residents at Midge Point, north of Mackay, were ordered to evacuate on Monday morning, with the weather bureau expecting a strong tidal surge as a result of the cyclone.
Areas of the Whitsundays were told to evacuate on Sunday afternoon, while residents in the nearby Burdekin Shire Council region were also told to leave in the evening, including Alva Beach, Groper Creek, Jerona, Wunjunga and some areas of Rita Island.
This was followed by an alert from Townsville City Council for those living in Cape Cleveland, including Cungulla and Cleveland Palms, to evacuate from 6am on Monday.
Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor and Bowen resident Andrew Willcox said those who could not leave should stay with friends or family in "high, dry places".
The Bureau of Meteorology was expecting Cyclone Debbie to turn into a category 4 just before it made landfall between Rollingstone and Proserpine, predicted to be about 7 or 8am on Tuesday. Areas in the firing line included Townsville, Ayr, Bowen and Airlie Beach.
BoM meteorologist Adam Blazak said from Monday morning onwards the system would head directly for the north Queensland coast over warm water and continue to grow. He added the system was expected to be a "low-end category 4" with most of the coastline to experience 120km/h winds and gusts over 200km/h in parts.
The Townsville Local Disaster Management Group warned locals that dangerous winds were expected to reach the city much earlier than first thought, with gusts of up to 100km/h developing in the city as early as 4pm on Monday afternoon.
The weather bureau was also forecasting a storm surge between Lucinda and Mackay, with Mr Blazak warning "you don't want to muck around with a storm surge".
He said a two to three-metre swell was expected along the northern coastline on Tuesday, which would be whipped up by the strong winds.
Rainfall of about 200 millimetres was also forecast around Ayr, Bowen and Mackay with some areas set to record up to 400 millimetres.
However, there was one silver lining from Cyclone Debbie, with farmers between Emerald and Charters Towers expected to receive significant rainfall as the system weakened and moved inland, with flash flooding also possible.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said charter boats along the coast had been secured, ports closed and people on islands had been told to seek shelter. Those on remote islands with no adequate shelter to withstand the cyclone were urged to evacuate.
Schools in coastal areas from north of Townsville to south of Proserpine were closed on Monday ahead of Cyclone Debbie's arrival, with a full list of closures available here.
One car park in Townsville's south resembled an ant hill on Sunday with cars coming and going all day as locals stocked up on thousands of sandbags and Airlie Beach locals were "scared stiff" at the thought of the approaching cyclone, but backpackers didn't share the same level of concern.