UPDATED 1.45PM: As Ita approached, people in far north Queensland living in the cyclone’s predicted path were being warned to prepare for a worst-case scenario that could see storm surges hit more populated areas like Cairns.
The warning came as weather bureau projections indicated the category five storm was expected to make landfall near Cooktown, north of the Daintree, on Friday night.
But Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says dangerous storm surges could hit more densely populated areas, adding the effects of Ita could even head south and hit Cairns.
“If the track changes, then we could see more significant impacts along the coast from Cooktown all the way through to Cairns and also probably further south,” Newman told reporters in Cairns.
“People should be concerned if the track changes down the coast for a storm surge.”
Newman said the surge could be about 1.5-2 metres higher than normal high tides.
Cairns Regional Council had since advised residents in low lying areas to self-evacuate, even though no public shelters were yet open.
The premier said residents in Cooktown and Hope Vale – both in Ita’s sights – should have already evacuated to cyclone shelters if they were in houses built before 1985.
Newman said those staying in their homes needed to take immediate plans to protect themselves.
“The safest part of a building is in the bathroom – the walls are stronger there,” he said.
“That’s an important action people need to take right now.”
Newman said power and telephone networks were likely to be cut for some time after the disaster.
“I want people to know the government has done everything it possibly can and after the event, we’re mobilising to get in and help the affected communities,” he said.
The Bureau of Meteorology estimated Cyclone Ita was 160km northeast of Cooktown and 315km north of Cairns at 1pm (AEST) and was moving south at about 12km/h.
Shops had closed their doors and the cyclone shelter had stopped accepting people in Cooktown as wind gusts of up to 125km/h and heavy downpours began to batter the small town, where a cyclone last hit in 1949.
During its peak, destructive winds of up to 300km/h were expected to hit communities in the area, putting the system on par with devastating Cyclone Yasi, which lashed north Queensland in 2011.
The bureau’s cyclone warning has extended inland to include areas like Kalinga, Palmerville, Mareeba and Chillagoe.
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