Thousands of Australians were forced to evacuate their homes and stay in sparse shelters as Cyclone Debbie battered the Queensland coast.

Fearing for their homes and with nowhere else to go, many spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in plastic chairs or makeshift beds on the floor in the bleak-looking lodgings last night, according to the Daily Mail.

Ernie Woods, 82, was pictured resting on a single bare mattress he'd brought with him with only a small blanket to keep him warm through the night.

Children were left to entertain themselves, playing on red and white plastic chairs and with gym equipment, such as barbells, hand weights and boxing gloves in a sparsely supplied cyclone shelter in the town of Ayr in northern Queensland.

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Numerous purpose-built evacuation shelters as well as schools and community centres have opened up to accommodate the evacuees, a Queensland Police spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.

But while people are urged to bring essential supplies - including medication and non-perishable food - with them, some have been told to leave pillows and mattresses at home due to the lack of room.

Those coming to Townsville's Heatley High School have been told not to bring pillows or mattresses because there's not enough room to stretch out, ABC reports.

Instead, they can have one of the 800 chairs that have been set out.

Mark Roche, deputy commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, said: "Generally they're for short-term, not long-term stays.

"In a lot of cases in may be crowded, but that's because it's a place of support and refuge."

The Queensland Government has urged residents to check for information about evacuation shelters through local ABC radio broadcasts or other media outlets before leaving their homes.

Those who think there is a likelihood of evacuation are urged to make arrangements to stay at the homes of family or friends in safer areas.

"Evacuation centres are generally only intended for short term stays, and may be crowded and less comfortable," the government's website states.

Children entertain themselves in the Ayr temporary cyclone shelter with weight and other gym equipment lying around. Photo/Getty Images
Children entertain themselves in the Ayr temporary cyclone shelter with weight and other gym equipment lying around. Photo/Getty Images

The government also explains that residents should pack an emergency kit during times of disaster and keep it with them at all times.

They advise it contain essential times, including non-perishable food, bottled water, a First Aid kit, a flashlight and batteries and toiletries.

Evacuees are also advised to bring all necessary medication with them as well as any special items needed for infants and elderly people as well as important documents.

The government advises people to prepare their evacuation kit well in advance, stay prepared and keep informed as if the order is given to evacuate, they may not have much time - and some supplies may not be available at shelters.

Pets can't be brought to shelters, but Queensland RSPCA has released tips to follow to ensure animals are cyclone-ready.

First and foremost, owners of pets are told to ensure their pet has identification. Other tips include making sure pets aren't tethered if they're outside and provided with food and water in heavy bowls.

If left behind at home, pets should be kept in separate rooms with small or preferably no windows.

On Monday, thousands were evacuated as the severe category four storm moved towards the coast of northeast Australia, packing destructive winds with warnings of major structural damage and surging tides.

The eye of Cyclone Debbie is now hitting the Whitsunday Islands - where trees are down, the streets are empty and the rain is blowing sideways.

Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Wilcox said the wind started to pick up significantly at around 7am this morning.

Mr Wilcox said the region was in lockdown, with more than 300 people in shelters in Bowen and Proserpine.

About 10,000 people are without power, and the State Emergency Service has already received almost 100 calls about fallen trees and leaking roofs.

"Outside it is just pouring horizontally, the rain is falling sideways, the trees look like they're in a disco, and it hasn't even arrived yet," he told AAP.

"It's still 100 kilometres away and the wind is getting very strong ... we've got plenty of places to hide in the house if it gets a lot worse."

A woman could be seen lying on a makeshift bed as others sat on plastic chairs in an evacuation centre today. Photo/Getty Images
A woman could be seen lying on a makeshift bed as others sat on plastic chairs in an evacuation centre today. Photo/Getty Images

"Most houses are built to withstand cyclones but the problem is people don't maintain their homes and so when they hit, they suddenly find their roofs are leaking water," the mayor said.

Tourists on Hamilton Island were forced to bunker down in hotel rooms to weather the worst of Cyclone Debbie as it passes over the normally idyllic tropical paradise.

Helena Mo who is holidaying on the island said the wind started to get 'pretty bad' around 1am but the worst came after 4am.

"I have to admit it's been difficult to get some sleep, even with the knowledge that we are staying in a very secure hotel," she told AAP.

"I have never heard gusts of wind howl this loud and this intense before."

"You can't help but worry about what's going to happen next."

She said she and her boyfriend moved a mattress into the bathroom around midnight, but so far they had been able to stay in the main part of their room at the Reef View Hotel.

"The doors and windows in this hotel have been pretty sturdy and cyclone proof," she said.

Meanwhile, almost 400 schools and child care centres in far north Queensland are closed as Debbie lashes the region.

The state government announced today that 131 state schools have shut their doors ahead of the arrival of the storm, which is expected to cross the coast south of Bowen about midday.

And it was a rough night for residents of Mackay as Debbie neared.

Around 25,000 people have fled their homes amid fears a storm surge could swamp them, but many are staying put.

Local Felicity Mackintosh, who spent Monday night bunkered down in her home on the waterside suburb of Eimeo, said winds intensified throughout the night as the storm inched closer to shore.

Ms Mackintosh said falling trees and flooding were her main concerns.

"Trees are going to fall over because everything's waterlogged," she said.

"There's a lot of leaf fall so the drains are all blocked so that's more flooding problems."

While Mackay still has power, Ms Mackintosh reckons locals are prepared for several days without electricity.

"We've lost it for a week before and you can't wash your clothes, so you make sure everything's sorted out," she said.

"Friends drove by yesterday and they had the mining generator on the back of the truck ... that would light up a whole house.

"That's what people are doing, they are prepared."