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Cyclone Ita near Cookstown

Cyclone Ita bears down on Australia's northeast coast, thousands evacuated

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Digital writers

Friday, April 11, 2014, 8:37 AM -

Residents and tourists on Australia's northeast coast have evacuated as the "strongest cyclone in three years" continues to threaten the region.

Cyclone Ita, which strengthened to a Category 5 storm on Thursday, 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 cyclone was downgraded to a Category 3 storm late Friday, but a cyclone warning 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 outages were reported in Cooktown at around 10 pm local time Friday, and a "disaster" was declared for the area.

"Coastal residents between Cape Flattery and Cape Tribulation, including Cooktown are specifically warned of the dangerous storm tide overnight and on the high tide Saturday morning," the Bureau of Meteorology warned. "The sea is likely to rise steadily up to a level which will be significantly above the normal tide, with damaging waves, strong currents and flooding of low-lying areas extending some way inland."

People living in areas likely to be affected by this flooding should take measures to protect their property as much as possible, the bureau added.

"And be prepared to follow instructions regarding evacuation of the area if advised to do so by the authorities."

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

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