Cyclone Ita: Queensland hit by 'very destructive' storm

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Media captionResidents in Cooktown, Queensland, fear the storm could cause significant damage

Cyclone Ita, a category-three storm packing "very destructive" winds of up to 170km/h (105mph), has hit northern Queensland in Australia.

The storm has crossed the coast near Cape Flattery and is expected to head south-south-west overnight, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said.

Residents in low-lying areas have been warned to prepare for damaging waves, strong currents and flooding.

It is the strongest storm to hit since Cyclone Yasi, which struck in 2011.

Previously classed as a category-five storm, Ita was downgraded by the BOM to category four and then to category three when it hit the Cape York Peninsula,

In its bulletin at 02:06 local time (16:06 GMT), the BOM said the storm was 11km from Cooktown and 180km from Cairns.

"Very destructive winds with gusts up to 170km/h are possible between Cape Melville and Cooktown", which are in the path of the cyclone, the bulletin said.

Residents in those areas have been urged to "stay calm and remain in a secure shelter".

Everyone in coastal areas has been warned to expect a "dangerous storm tide overnight" and rising sea levels that could flood low-lying areas.

"People living in areas likely to be affected by this flooding should take measures to protect their property as much as possible and be prepared to follow instructions regarding evacuation of the area," BOM said in its advisory.

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Media captionBBC Weather tracks the path of the cyclone

BBC Weather's Tomasz Schafernaker says that although the very destructive winds will remain close to the centre of the storm, gale force winds and heavy rainfall could extend out as far as 180km (111 miles).

If the eye of the storm heads inland it is likely to blow itself out, but if it stays close to the coastline gales and heavy rain are likely to continue battering communities for days to come, he adds.

'Blowing its guts out'

The Cape York peninsula is sparsely populated, with residents concentrated in a number of towns.

A cyclone warning is in place for areas from Cape Melville to Cardwell, including Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns and a number of inland areas.

Cooktown Mayor Peter Scott said in quotes carried by ABC that around 350 people were in the town's cyclone shelter.

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Image caption Dark clouds could be seen overhead at Port Douglas on Friday as the cyclone closed in
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Image caption Residents have been taping up windows and securing large items
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Image caption Cyclone Ita has already brought heavy rain to the Solomon Islands, causing deadly flash floods

"In polite terms it's blowing its guts out at the moment," he said. "We had a power outage... but power has [now] been restored".

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman sought to reassure people: "We all can get through this without anyone being injured or killed.

"I want people to know you are not alone. We are all being backed up by a very big team."

'Like a movie'

Keith Whiting, who lives in Port Douglas, told the BBC earlier he had been felling dead trees and removing any objects that winds could pick up.

"We have prepared a safe room in the middle of the house downstairs, bought water, charged the torches and now we wait," he said.

"If she swings any further south when she leaves, she will take the house."

Bethan Knapp, a doctor at a clinic in Cairns, told the BBC: "All pregnant women over 38 weeks have been advised to evacuate and chronic disease patients have been visited by a doctor to ensure they have emergency medical packs and instructions... It's like something out of a movie."

"We have been told our power will probably go down and may be like that for a week."

Cyclone Ita brought torrential rain to the Solomon Islands late last week, causing flash floods that left at least 21 people dead.

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