Cyclone Ita cuts power to thousands in northeastern Australia
Friday, April 11, 2014, 5:36 PM -
Residents and tourists on Australia's northeast coast have evacuated as the "strongest cyclone in three years" continues to threaten the region.
By 6 a.m. Saturday, Ergon Energy announced that about 5,000 people were without power.
They're likely to be in the dark for some time: Restoration crews have been forced to postpone their work due to winds up to 200 km/h, coupled with heavy rain.
There have been reports of cars being flipped over by the storm, along with steel debris flying through the air.
Emergency crews have received several calls for assistance and requests for sandbags.
Cooktown's historic West Coast hotel, built in 1873, had its roof torn off by the powerful winds.
Cyclone Ita strengthened to a Category 5 storm on Thursday. It is is expected to bring wind gusts of up to 300 km/h, posing a direct threat to about 9,000 people.
According to Queensland emergency officials, the storm could spread over an area of about 400 km as it makes landfall.
The storm was downgraded to a Category 3 late Friday, but warnings remained in place for coastal areas from Cape Melville to Cardwell including Cooktown, Port Douglas and Cairns, and extending inland to areas including Palmerville, Mareeba and Chillagoe.
Property damage and power outage reports starting coming in at around 10 p.m. local time Friday, and a "disaster" was declared for the area.
Officials are warning residents to keep an eye on active weather watches and warnings, as they could change quickly.
People living in areas likely to be affected by the flooding have been advised to protect their property as much as possible.
The storm, which was still classified as a tropical depression late last week, barreled across the Solomon Islands killing at least 23 people near Honiara, the capital, according to the United Nations.
Thumbnail courtesy: NOAA.gov