Sydney, Feb 20: A "destructive" cyclone roaring towards a heavily-populated Australian province has intensified to a category five, the most severe ranking, meteorologists said early today as a second powerful storm made landfall further north.
Tropical Cyclone Marcia was upgraded with gusts of 285 kilometres per hour, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said, with the storm expected to slam into the Queensland coast this morning.
Further north, Tropical Cyclone Lam also intensified to a category four storm as it made landfall near the sparsely populated Northern Territory Aboriginal communities of Milingimbi and Gapuwiyak early today with wind gusts of 250 kilometres an hour.
Meteorologists described both storms as having a "very destructive" core. Cyclones, which are common in northeastern Australia, range from one to five in strength, with five the most severe, capable of causing structural damage, uprooting trees and overturning caravans and trailers.
Massive seas, a deluge of rain, flash flooding and gusts of up to 295 kilometres per hour are forecast along with abnormally high tides when Marcia hits somewhere between the towns of Mackay and Gladstone.
"This is a serious event. It has changed drastically since this morning," said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday.
"Queenslanders need to be prepared now. This is an important time now not to panic but to make sure you have your preparations in place."
Towns near the eye of the storm were in lockdown and cyclone centres set up in Mackay, Proserpine and Yeppoon, some 670 kilometres north of Brisbane.
Palaszczuk said all Queensland hospitals had activated their emergency plans and additional ambulance services had been moved to some areas. In Yeppoon, supermarket shelves were emptied and sandbags filled as locals readied for a long night.
"It's the unknown that's the worry," Deeann Busby told the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper as she taped up windows in her homewares shop and cafe.
"We've had so many close calls over the years that we've probably gotten a bit complacent - but this one's looking a bit more serious." Queensland has been smashed by several major storms and cyclones over the past few years with Cyclone Oswald, also a category five, flooding parts of the state in 2013, racking up insurance claims of some USD 765 million.