March 28 (UPI) -- Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said Tropical Cyclone Debbie weakened to a Category 2 storm after making landfall Tuesday as officials fear the possibility of deaths.
Debbie, which had sustained winds of 68 mph, made landfall near northeast Australia's Airlie Beach in the Queensland state at about midday as a Category 4 storm, which continues to weaken as it moves southwest slowly inland. The BOM said heavy rains were expected for up to 24 hours despite peak winds weakening rapidly Tuesday night.
Officials were working to assess the damage from Debbie. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urged residents to stay indoors until authorities know the extent of damage.
Debbie is approaching the town of Collinsville, which has a population of about 1,500 people, with destructive winds up to 96 mph, BOM said.
"To everyone in Collinsville, tonight will be a long night. Please stay indoors and stay safe," Palaszczuk said in a statement.
Severe damage to homes has been reported as some communities have been cut off from communication.
"We are going to get lots of reports of damage and sadly I think we will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths," Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said in a statement. "We need to be prepared for that."
BOM said heavy rains have the potential to cause severe flash flooding around the Central Coast and Whitsundays district, adding that up to 10 inches of rain is likely to fall that could cause major river flooding through the week.
Prior to landfall, officials ordered the evacuation of thousands of residents living in low-lying areas in and near Debbie's path.
Palaszczuk said the impact of Debbie will not be fully seen for "the next three to five days."
"This is a one in 100 year rainfall event," Palaszczuk added. "She is bringing with her a whole lot of might and a whole lot of fury"