At 11 p.m. local time (1324 UTC) on Feb. 19, 2015, the Precipitation Radar on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite observed the eye-wall of Tropical Cyclone Marcia in the Coral Sea. At that time, Marcia was rapidly intensifying to category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, a little more than 12 hours before an expected landfall in Queensland, Australia.
Several towns in Queensland were without water on Sunday as emergency services worked to clean up after ex-tropical cyclone Marcia, which ripped through Rockhampton and nearby areas on Friday.
Rockhampton deputy mayor Tony Williams told Guardian Australia it was the biggest natural disaster to hit the town in his lifetime.
“I was born and raised in Rockhampton,” he said. “We’ve had cyclones before but usually off the coast. We’ve had floods that have cut the town off for weeks, and we had a bushfire that was declared a national disaster in 2009.”
“This event trumps any that the community has faced before.”
Deputy prime minister, Warren Truss, toured affected areas on Sunday and announced that residents who suffered damage to their homes would be eligible for the federal government’s disaster recovery payment or up to $1,000 per adult or $400 per child.
Funding is also available under the joint federal and state natural disaster benefit and recovery arrangements.
Williams said at least 600 homes were damaged by the cyclone or subsequent floodwater, but added that was a conservative estimate. The official damage figure is 550 homes. Australian Defence Force personnel, who arrived in Rockhampton on Sunday, have only just begun assessing the damage. A further 200 ADF personnel will arrive in Rockhampton and Yeppoon on Sunday night.
Almost 90% of houses have lost power, mainly due to trees over the line. Three hundred workers from power company Ergon arrived in Rockhampton on Sunday, aided by 74 extra SES volunteers and council workers from neighbouring shires.
Williams said the priority was getting water to homes that have been cut off from mains supplies, as well as restoring power to critical infrastructure such as Rockhampton hospital.
Four water tankers are making deliveries to the town’s outer suburbs, but residents have been urged to continue conserving water until full services are restored. Skip bins have also been placed in the street for people to dump food that has perished in warm fridges.
The Courier Mail’s Greg Stolz reports that people are queuing for three hours for fuel and ice.
Williams said supplies were being trucked in to the north of the town, but the main access road south, the Bruce Highway, remained closed. He urged people to be patient.
“The supermarkets are the things we are getting open so people can get supplies and self-help,” Williams said.
A community centre will open on Sunday afternoon to offer counselling services and support to residents.
“It’s all right for the first couple of days but then this thing starts to wear on people and it gets difficult to cope,” Williams said.
Yeppoon, a coastal town 58km to the north of Rockhampton, was even more severely hit.
A public statement posted on the Livingstone shire council website on Sunday morning says emergency services are working to restore power to the hospital and supermarkets, but warn it could take 48 hours to restore power to the entire town.
Telstra says that mobile phone service to the area is affected by congestion and have been asked to restrict phone use.
Marmor, 44km south of Rockhampton, also suffered extensive damage.
At Gympie, about 460km down the coast, residents are watching the Mary River. The Bureau of Meteorology predicted the floodwaters would peak at 17 meters on Sunday afternoon.
Flooding has closed major roads including the Bruce Highway, Gympie’s major access road, which is closed to the north and south of the town.
Gympie mayor Mick Curran told Guardian Australia the damage could have been worse.
Businesses near the One Mile Recreation Area, at the south-eastern edge of the town, were the worst affected, with 19 reporting flood damage. Sporting ovals in the area are also damaged.
But Curran said the flood waters had not reached Mary Street, Gympie’s main street, and there were no reports of houses being inundated.
“Whilst it not good, we have faired pretty well at this stage,” he said.
Curran said if the flood waters were expected to be just one meter higher they would have to start evacuating businesses in the CBD. Gympie was one of the towns hit hardest in the 2013 Queensland floods, when the Mary River reached 20.3 meters. That damaged more than 100 businesses and 25 homes.