Queenslanders evacuated as Cyclone Debbie approaches

Thousands of north Queenslanders are being evacuated as Cyclone Debbie bears down on Australia's north-east coast, bringing winds of up to 300km/h and possibly a 4-metre storm surge.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has warned the storm will be the worst since Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

The system is about 400 km off Townsville and is due to intensify into a category four system and cross the coast just south of Ayr about 8am Tuesday (local time).

Evacuation orders are in place for low-lying areas in parts of the Burdekin, Whitsunday, and parts Townsville council regions.

"You're going to see people without power for some time, large trees down, roofs damaged," meteorologist Adam Blazak said.

About 1000 extra emergency services personnel have flown into the region to prepare the low-lying coastal communities.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) commissioner Katarina Carroll said the biggest concern was not just the wind, but the rain and the storm surge that would follow.

She said it could be anywhere between 2 and 4 metres.

Police and SES are out from early this morning telling residents in low lying areas to leave immediately.

Evacuation buses will transport residents from Ayr and nearby Home Hill this morning.

A voluntary evacuation has been issued for the areas of Home Hill, Ayr and surrounds south of Townsville.

Cyclone shelters have been opened in Bowen and Proserpine, but authorities said they were only for people who had no other options.

Schools from Ayr to Proserpine are closed today, with as many as 74 likely to be closed by the end of the day.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service has activated its emergency management plan and has postponed all elective surgery scheduled for today and tomorrow.

Army on standby, electricity workers deployed

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Army was on standby and ready to help before and after the storm passed.

"We also have the Australian Defence Force - we actually have people that have been deployed to different areas making sure that there is fuel at the service stations," she said.

Ms Palaszczuk also said that state's electricity providers would be working together to ensure power supply was restored as quickly as possible after the event.

"In relation to energy, we have over 800 power workers in the region we have sent 75 further energy workers from southeast up the region, and another 130 will be going today," she said.


Photo: Commonwealth of Australia 2017, Bureau of meteorology