(Bloomberg) -- A powerful cyclone tore into Australia’s northeastern coast on Tuesday, forcing thousands of people to flee, shuttering coal to gold mines and prompting insurers to declare a catastrophe.
Cyclone Debbie made landfall near Airlie Beach, a tourist resort and gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, at midday with wind gusts up to 260 kilometers per hour (162 mph), according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Airlines canceled flights, as emergency services braced for flooding and destruction.
“We are going to get lots of reports of damage,” Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters. “Sadly, I think that we will also receive more reports of injuries, if not death."
It’s the worst storm to hit Queensland since Cyclone Yasi -- the most severe at category five -- badly damaged sugar- and banana-producing regions in 2011. Debbie, which made landfall as a category four cyclone, was downgraded one step as the weather system moved inland, bringing heavy rainfall that’s expected to cause flash flooding.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared a catastrophe, with insurers anticipating thousands of claims. As many as 25,000 residents evacuated low-lying areas due to an expected storm surge. One man was taken to hospital Tuesday after being badly injured by a collapsing wall, police said.
The cyclone’s wind speeds have peaked, though the storm will continue to deliver gusts of up to 165 kilometers per hour and heavy rainfall through Wednesday that’s likely to cause major river flooding, the bureau said in a statement posted to its website Tuesday.