Despite Tourism North Queensland insisting it remains “unaffected” by Cyclone Debbie, news reports show the impacts of the extreme weather on local tourism.
The cyclone, which is expected to cross the Queensland coast today about 600km south of Cairns, has seen many in North Queensland taken to evacuation centres.
Per reports from News Corp, those living and holidaying in low-lying areas such as Bowen, Proserpine and Airlie Beach, have been evacuated as gale force winds batter the Whitsunday Islands.
The storm, now upgraded to a category four cyclone, was over Hayman Island at 8am this morning, per ABC, where gusts of up to 190 kilometres per hour are already being felt.
Almost 650 millimetres of rain has fallen in some communities in 24 hours.
In Proserpine, a 31-year-old tourist has been killed in a two-vehicle crash, with two more taken to hospital with injuries. Authorities claim the wild weather was a major contributor to the crash.
Caroline Murray, general manager of the Palm Bay Resort on Long Island in the Whitsundays, spoke to news.com.au about evacuating the island.
“We’re actually in the middle of refurbishment at the moment so we’re lucky we don’t have as many guests as usual, but I’ve sent all my staff to my house on Airlie Beach while I’ve stayed here,” she told them.
“We’re in the process of sandbagging all the beachfront bungalows and getting rid of the outdoor furniture on the pavilion and removing anything that might topple over. It’s really just a process of elimination.
“It’s all a waiting game at the moment. We’re just hoping for as little damage as possible.”
Holidaymakers on Hamilton Island were kept awake overnight by “ferocious winds”, which reached more than 220km/h this morning, with the main body expected to reach the mainland between Ayr, south of Townsville, and Midge Point, north of Mackay, about midday.
Per SBS, Jetstar, Virgin and Qantas have cancelled flights to and from Townsville airport for today, while all flights operating in and out of Mackay airport have been cancelled as well, as Mackay airport imposes a partial shutdown.
Some cancellations with Jetstar, Virgin & Qantas have occurred for Mon 27 & Tues 28 March. Check with your airline for flight status updates
— Townsville Airport (@TSVAirport) March 26, 2017
Mackay Airport Cyclone Advice #3
There are no more schedueld flights operating into or out of Mackay Airport… https://t.co/dtoof4atjc
— Mackay Airport (@MackayAirport) March 27, 2017
The weather has also forced a surprise stopover in Mooloolaba for the Azamara Journey cruise ship, after initially scheduled to head north to Hamilton Island. Those on the Island claim a lockdown was enforced about 6pm on Monday.
About 500-600 passengers got a peek at Mooloolaba yesterday in a stopover that, per News Corp, was worth about $250,000 to the region.
It was a welcome change for the region, which missed out on eight of 11 ships last year due to rough seas and bad weather.
Originally scheduled to sail to the Whitsundays enroute to Singapore, passengers were able to enjoy better conditions on the Sunshine Coast, with Visit Sunshine Coast volunteers and staff co-ordinating tour activities for the passengers to explore the region. The ship is now planning to be in Townsville by Thursday.
Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford said a team of volunteers had quickly assembled to welcome the guests, and while the stopover was unscheduled, the passengers had been very thankful they were greeted so warmly.
“You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines,” Latchford said.
“It provided a great opportunity for people from southern Australian cities, Asia, and Europe to have a look at what we offer on the Sunshine Coast, and they were very happy with what they experienced. Hopefully they will return for a longer visit in the future.
“It’s great for Mooloolaba, which has gone out of its way to establish itself as an attractive port for cruise vessels over the past few years.”
Meanwhile, Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Alex de Waal said Tropical North Queensland had been enjoying clear sunny days since the low pressure system had begun tracking south of Cairns over the weekend.
“Cairns and Tropical North Queensland is open for business with both the Cairns Airport and the Cairns Port open,” he said.
“All 600 plus tours including those to the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest are operating as normal.
“Forward bookings for the school holiday period and Easter are looking strong in Tropical North Queensland.
“We wish our southern tourism colleagues the best as they prepare for Cyclone Debbie and trust they will be open for business soon.
“The Queensland tourism industry is very experienced at dealing with the impact of natural weather events and after ensuring the safety of visitors will work towards a speedy recovery.”