SYDNEY: A cyclone packing winds of up to 270km an hour swept towards Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coast yesterday, forcing tens of thousands of people to hunker down as 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 hits north of Cooktown, some 1,600 kilometres from Brisbane, late Friday.
“It’s still a destructive cyclone which has very strong winds,” Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said, adding some 9,000 people in and around Cooktown were “staring down quite a destructive cyclonic event”.
A total of 30,000 further south were reportedly urged to evacuate.
Ita sat some 90km northeast of Cooktown, a coastal community of 2,400 people, at 0900 GMT, 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 80 kilometres (per hour) is dangerous,” Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.