Cyclone batters Great Barrier Reef coast

 13 Apr 2014 - 0:51

A large gum tree rests on a house as a result of Cyclone Ita in Cooktown, Queensland, yesterday.

SYDNEY: A tropical cyclone battered Australia’s Barrier Reef coast yesterday, knocking out power and phone lines for thousands of people and threatening floods, despite weakening as it headed south towards major tourist resorts.
Tens of thousands of people hunkered down overnight as strong gales and heavy rains lashed the far north, but no casualties or major destruction was reported as cyclone Ita was downgraded to a category one storm.
Ita crossed the coast near Cape Flattery late Friday as a category four storm packing winds up to 230km per hour, tearing off roofs and uprooting trees.
Queensland state Premier Campbell Newman said several thousand people across the far north had lost electricity and warned that cyclone Ita “continues to be a threat”.
As authorities started the clean up in the wake of the storm, cyclone warnings remained in force from Cooktown to the bigger Barrier Reef resorts of Port Douglas and Cairns, 1,700km north of Brisbane.
Roofs were ripped off two homes and a pub in the coastal resort of Cooktown where several trees were uprooted during the night, officials said. Large parts of the 1,000 strong Aboriginal community of Hope Vale and Cooktown, population 2,400, had lost power. The storm was downgraded from the strongest category five before it made landfall on Friday night.  Before midday (0200 GMT) the Bureau of Meteorology said Ita had weakened to a category one. By 3pm it was 85km northwest of Cairns and moving southeasterly at seven kilometres an hour.
It also warned of heavy rainfall possibly leading to flash flooding and coastal inundation from a storm surge.