Cyclone Ita weakening

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.

Fears that tropical cyclone Ita would devastate far north Queensland have proved unfounded, but authorities are warning residents the storm is still packing a punch.

Authorities had been worried that Ita would unleash its fury as a category five, making it the worst cyclone to hit the area since Yasi in 2011.

But, despite spending a sleepless night hunkered down in their homes or at a shelter, most people have been unaffected by a storm that crossed the coast as a category four system at Cape Flattery at 9pm on Friday.

Ita was downgraded to a category two by Saturday morning and was continuing to weaken and expected to head out to sea during the day.

Claire Stone, who moved from Tully to Cooktown with her family in January, says Ita brought back memories of Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

"We lived through Yasi so we were pretty nervous yesterday when they said it was going to be as big as that. It was up there but it wasn't as windy.''

View: Cyclone Ita strikes N. Queensland

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Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott said Cooktown had come through relatively unscathed, despite fears it would cop the worst of Ita.

"There will be people out there whose homes have been wrecked and a lot of people who are stressed, but I think in the main we've fared very well,'' Mr Scott told AAP.

Roofs were ripped from at least one home, a number of sheds and the West Coast Hotel after fierce winds tore through the coastal community overnight on Friday.

Large trees have been uprooted and branches, fence posts and snapped powerlines lay strewn across roads that were mostly deserted on Saturday morning.

Only minor damage has been reported in other Cape York communities, but authorities are yet to assess the damage at Wujal Wujal, south of Cooktown, which was smashed by storm surges up to three metres.

Communications to Hopevale were cut off and the weather conditions were preventing authorities flying into some areas.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, who is in Cairns, said there was the potential for extensive damage and the military was on standby to help if needed.

Getting power and telecommunications reconnected was a priority now, Mr Newman said, as was making sure people stayed safe.

"The big threat will be for heavy rain. It could dump a fair bit of rain in certain catchments so we're worried about people getting caught in floodwaters on those low-lying bridges or causeways,'' Mr Newman told the Nine Network.

"So if it's flooded, forget it.''

More than 200 people spent Friday night hunkered down in the local cyclone shelter in Cooktown and about 800 people took refuge in the Hopevale centre.

Others, like Cooktown woman Diana Spiker, spent a sleepless night sheltering from the storm at a friend's place.

She spent Saturday morning inspecting the damage around town and said she had expected to find things much worse.

"They were talking about a category five at one stage so I thought there would have been a lot more damage,'' she told AAP.

In Cairns, a fallen tree in the city centre on Abbott Street appeared to be the most significant effect of Cyclone Ita, with the city spared storm surges.

Mayor Bob Manning is expecting the airport to reopen on Saturday, with business to resume as usual on Sunday.

"Yes, I think we have dodged a bullet,'' he told AAP.

"From what I've seen this morning, there has been a little bit of damage - it's not significant, it's not major.''

Ken Kato from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said Ita was likely to be downgraded to a category one system or tropical low later on Saturday, but the danger wasn't over.

"It's still packing a fair punch,'' Mr Kato said.

The region is still being lashed by heavy rain and strong winds and the BoM is warning of possible flash flooding.

Inland from Cairns, Mareeba's mayor Tom Gilmore said he was prepared for localised flooding, with Ita expected to pass southwest of the town of 9500 people on Saturday afternoon as a category two system.

"There will be a lot of rain, we know that,'' he told AAP.

"People just need to settle in, watch the TV and have a cup of tea and just let this thing pass.''

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