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  • 11 April 2014, 23:42

Cyclone Ita Bears Down On Northern Australia

Tens of thousands of people have been told to leave their homes as Cyclone Ita bears down on coastal towns along Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The country's Bureau of Meteorology said the cyclone made landfall at Cape Flattery in northern Queensland on Friday.

It said: "(Ita) is crossing the coast near Cape Flattery with very destructive winds to 230kph (143mph) near the core and gales extending out to 185km(112 miles) from the centre."

The bureau said the storm was predicted to move further south over the coming hours, hitting the coastal resort of Cooktown with winds up to 78mph (125kph).

Despite being downgraded from a maximum level five to a weaker level three storm, Cooktown residents in particular are being told to batten down the hatches.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said: "It's still a destructive cyclone which has very strong winds."

He said the region was "staring down quite a destructive cyclonic event".

He urged residents in the area to head to local storm shelters, adding that homes built before 1985, when new building regulations were put in place, may not withstand the winds.

A total of 30,000 people have been told to evacuate and a warning zone has been extended beyond Cooktown to Port Douglas and Cairns, the main transit hubs further south.

Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott told Australian broadcaster ABC: "Anything over 80kph(50mph) is dangerous.

"Anything over 80K 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 added that one senior police officer in the area had warned: "the Cooktown you see today won't be here tomorrow".

Authorities said that, alongside strong winds, the storm could bring heavy rain leading to flash flooding. Power failures are also likely.

Mr Newman said: "I want people to know the government has done everything it possibly can and after the event, we're mobilising to get in and help the affected communities."

He added that telephone and electricity lines could be down temporarily after the storm passes.

Category three storms are defined as carrying destructive winds of 102.5-139mph.

Tropical storms are fairly frequent in north eastern Australia. The biggest in recent years was the category five storm, cyclone Yasi.

It devastated large swathes of Queensland in 2011 after hitting the state with winds of up to 170mph.

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