Cyclone Debbie smashes into Queensland coast

Largest storm to hit Queensland since 2011

(CNN) - Tropical Cyclone Debbie is making landfall across the coast of northeast Australia, packing sustained winds of 185 kph (114 mph) with gusts reaching more than 262 kph (163 mph).

The storm is lashing the Queensland coast with torrential rain which, when combined with a dangerous storm tide, could cause major flooding, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The Category 4 cyclone is the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane and expected to linger for the next 12 to 24 hours, according to meteorologists.

"With the very, very strong winds if they just sit there and twirl, it's like a battering ram," Queensland police commissioner Ian Stewart told CNN affiliate 7 News.

The "very destructive core" of the cyclone already left a path of destruction through outlying islands and nearby mainland, the meteorology bureau said. Residents along the coast have been warned to expect storm surges up to four meters high.

"Scariest thing I've ever gone through," Sassha Kozachenko said on Instagram. On Airlie Beach, detritus and debris could be seen hurtling through the air in videos posted on social media.

The severe weather has already claimed the life of a 31-year-old woman after dangerous conditions were linked to a fatal car crash Monday near the town of Proserpine.

Cyclone Debbie has ripped trees from the ground and brought significant rainfall to the region.

Residents reported their apartments shaking and windows breaking. Pristine beaches that were bright and sunny Monday were completely flooded Tuesday.

Debbie was big enough to be seen from the cameras aboard the International Space Station.

And Facebook activated its "Safety Check" feature for users to check in on their friends and family in the region.

By the numbers

In terms of sheer numbers, the storm has impressed.

More than 34,000 people are without power, 7 News reported.

In the span of an hour, 211 millimeters (8 inches) of rain hit the area, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. It was a once-in-a-hundred year event, she said.

Though authorities were seeking to evacuate 25,000 people in the lead-up to the storm, Palaszczuk told Sky News Australia, the time to leave is over. "I need people and families to remain in place," Palaszczuk said.

"This is going to get worse," Palaszczuk told Nine News Queensland Tuesday morning.

Cyclone Debbie is the largest storm to hit the state since the Category 5 Cyclone Yasi in 2011, which ripped homes from their foundations and destroyed farmland.

The timing

The timing of cyclone Debbie's expected landfall coincides with a 12-foot tide in Bowen, one of the highest tides of the year, according to 7 News.

That could make the flooding even worse.

"Houses in low-lying coastal regions ... and [which] are subjected to storm surge will be vulnerable to significant damage," said John D Ginger, a research director at the Cyclone Testing Station at James Cook University.

Over 1,000 emergency service workers had been sent to the region in preparation, and all schools remain closed until further notice, 7 News reported.

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