A cyclone packing winds of up to 270km an hour swept toward Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coast yesterday, forcing tens of thousands of people to hunker down as Australian authorities warned of potential devastation.
Cyclone Ita, while downgraded from a maximum level five to a category-four storm, was expected to bring fierce gales when it hit north of Cooktown, 1,600km from Brisbane, late yesterday.
“It’s still a destructive cyclone, which has very strong winds,” Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said, adding about 9,000 people in and around Cooktown were “staring down quite a destructive cyclonic event.”
Further south, 30,000 more were reportedly urged to evacuate.
At 7pm, Ita sat 90km northeast of Cooktown, a coastal community of 2,400 people, but a warning zone extends to the Great Barrier Reef tourist hubs of Port Douglas and Cairns.
Newman warned that homes built prior to 1985 when new building regulations were enacted may not withstand the impact of the storm and urged residents in the path of the menacing storm to head to local cyclone shelters.
“Anything over 80km per hour is dangerous,” Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“Anything over 80km will put a piece of tin through you and chop your head off. It will lift roofs off, it will make severe damage, so the best place to be is staying inside,” he said.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology called Ita “very serious” and said it expected the storm to make landfall near Cape Flattery, 70 km north of Cooktown on the sparsely populated Cape York peninsula, before midnight.
It warned that while the strongest winds will be concentrated near the eye of the storm, destructive winds, heavy rainfall, possibly leading to flash flooding, and coastal inundation from a storm surge all pose threats.