Cyclone Ita: Phones power the focus

Military on standby and residents lock down as intense cyclone heads for North Queensland.

Tropical cyclone Ita poses a significant threat to communities along the far north Queensland coast of Australia.
Tropical cyclone Ita poses a significant threat to communities along the far north Queensland coast of Australia.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says his government is focused on assessing how fast power and phone lines can be reconnected as strong gales and heavy rain from tropical cyclone Ita continue to lash the state's far north.

Roofs were ripped from at least two homes and a pub in Cooktown as Ita's fierce winds tore through the coastal community overnight on Friday.

Large trees have been uprooted and branches, fence posts and snapped powerlines were strewn across roads.

Ita was a category four cyclone as it crossed the coast near Cape Flattery about 9pm on Friday, but has been downgraded to a category two as it tracks south across the state.

Mr Newman said there was the potential for extensive damage.

"There will be a lot of damage potentially to people's property,'' he said on ABC radio on Saturday.

"We've really got to this morning assess how swiftly we can get the power and telecommunications back on in these communities. Both Hopevale and Cooktown lost power last night.''

He said the storm could have destroyed a banana plantation at Hopevale.

"I'm very conscious of a very important banana plantation to the Aboriginal community at Hopevale and I just really hope that hasn't been completely wiped out,'' Mr Campbell said.

Cyclone warnings are current for coastal areas from Cape Melville to Cardwell, including Cooktown, Port Douglas and Cairns, and extending inland to areas including Mareeba and Chillagoe.

Authorities had been warning Ita could be the worst cyclone to hit Queensland since Yasi three years ago.

Earlier it was reported Cooktown residents spent the night listening as severe tropical cyclone Ita ripped into their town.

At first light, they will emerge from their homes and storm shelters to assess the damage for themselves.

Ita crossed the coast near Cape Flattery at category four, with winds near the centre up to 230km/h, about 9pm (AEST), the Bureau of Meteorology said.

By midnight, Ita had been downgraded to category three with winds to 190km/h expected between Cape Melville and Cooktown.

In Cooktown just after midnight, gusts to 117km/h had been recorded with 120.8mm of rain since 9am Friday, but conditions are expected to worsen as the storm approaches through the early hours of Saturday.

BoM forecaster Andrew Busalino said Ita had been tracking south/south-west but was showing signs it could take a more southerly track early on Saturday.

A more southerly track could bring the storm closer to Cooktown and increase the impact on places including Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas and Cairns, with gusts to 150km/h on Saturday, he said.

"We urge people to keep an eye on our warnings over the next couple of hours,'' he said.

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokesman said QFES staff in Cooktown were sheltering and had been ordered not to emerge until first light, making damage assessments difficult.

Cooktown residents have been warned that properties built before 1985 may not withstand the powerful winds, and hundreds in Cooktown and nearby Hope Vale took refuge in shelters as the storm hit.

At least one roof has been torn from a house in Cooktown, which is being battered by strong gales and heavy rain.

Coastal residents between Cape Flattery and Cape Tribulation, including Cooktown, have been at risk from a dangerous storm tide overnight and the high tide Saturday morning, with damaging waves, strong currents and possible flooding in low-lying areas.

Storm tides are also expected between Cape Tribulation and Cairns, including Port Douglas, with minor foreshore flooding.

Very heavy rain, with possible flash flooding, may affect parts of the Cape York Peninsula, North Tropical Coast and Tablelands districts and will move south over the weekend.

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