Tropical Cyclone Debbie swept through Queensland, Australia on 28 March, causing wind speeds of 160 mph (260 kph) to lash the Queensland coast. However, it was the torrential rains that followed the cyclone that have caused the most damage, with severe flooding being reported in both Queensland and New South Wales. Several flood-affected northern New South Wales towns have been declared natural disaster zones, causing thousands to be evacuated from their homes and prompting response from several emergency services and the Australian military.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) said it committed 1,600 personnel to its Queensland Assist 17 operation. On 31 March, it said it had completed a number of operations, including using Army Chinook helicopters to fly medical personnel and supplies to Proserpine Hospital and supplies to Daydream Island. Affected areas were surveyed by two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) King Air aircraft. Before the storm hit, RAAF personnel and aircraft were positioned in Townsville, Amberley and Darwin, and two Navy MRH90 helicopters were positioned in Oakey. Acting Chief of Joint Operations, Major General Stuart Smith said on 31 March: “Our role now is to bring to bear the ADF’s specialist capabilities in order to provide the best possible support to the Queensland Government and those affected in their time of need.”
RACQ CQ Rescue reported that its two Mackay-based helicopters took part in evacuation and rescue attempts. On 30 March, both of the choppers assisted with patient transfers around 13:00 hrs, one transferring a patient from Hamilton Island to Mackay Base Hospital and the other taking two critically injured patients from Proserpine Hospital to Townsville General Hospital.
RACQ CQ Rescue was also tasked with the rescue of seven people who were stranded on the roof of their property. The party included five children, one of whom was a 10-month-old baby. The crew was able to evacuate the family, transporting them to near-by Sarina High School, where local police then took care of them.
One of RACQ CQ Rescue’s crew members Arno Schoonwinkel described the large areas of flooding: “There’s a huge amount of water lying about and cane paddocks are all completely washed out. There’s debris everywhere like chairs and tables from inside people’s houses just floating in the middle of paddocks.”
Elsewhere, RACQ LifeFlight was also called into action. Covering the south Queensland area, the Sunshine Coast-based service completed several missions, including winching an elderly couple off the roof of their flooded house. “The water had snuck up on them a little quicker than expected,” said air crewman Dan King. “They seemed to be in good spirits, they were just sitting up on the roof, not freaking out from what we could tell, but they were aware the situation they were in wasn’t the best situation to be in.”
Another one of the service’s helicopters based in Toowoomba was called upon to assist Queensland Police Service (QPS) in a SAR mission for three vehicles washed off the road in floodwaters. All three vehicles were located and were unoccupied.
Rescue efforts are still ongoing.