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Huge cyclone set to hit north-eastern Australia

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SYDNEY Australians are bracing themselves for the worst cyclone in the country's northeast in several years, with residents evacuated and schools closed amid forecasts of destructive winds and rain.

Cyclone Debbie has been forming off the coast of Queensland in recent days, the official Bureau of Meteorology said yesterday, with its "very destructive core" expected to hit land early tomorrow morning.

Bureau of Meteorology Queensland regional director Bruce Gunn told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): "The very destructive core of Tropical Cyclone Debbie is currently expected to cross the coast between Townsville and Proserpine on Tuesday morning, most likely as a Category Four tropical cyclone, with wind gusts of up to 260kmh near the centre.

"I think you could say that Debbie's probably the most significant tropical cyclone since Yasi that we've had to deal with in Queensland. Not so much because of its intensity, we're only predicting a Category Four at landfall, but mostly because of its size and extent."

Yasi was a cyclone in 2011 that saw homes in northern Queensland ripped from their foundations and crops devastated.

The Whitsundays, islands off the coast of Queensland, faced an evacuation call yesterday as residents were told to leave low-lying areas amid fears of a storm tide.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said dozens of schools would be closed because of the cyclone.

Shopkeeper Ken Hall said he was stacking sandbags in front of his store north of the Whitsundays. "I've been in three cyclones before, but this one has made me a little nervous because it's bigger," he told the ABC. - AFP