Tropical Cyclone Ita is seen just off-shore near Cape Flattery, Queensland, Australia in this NOAA image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite's VIIRS instrument at 23:35EST April 10 or 03:35GMT April 11, 2014. Torrential rains were forcing residents and tourists to flee coastal areas along the Great Barrier Reef as the strongest cyclone in three years barrelled across the Coral Sea for the Australian mainland. Tropical Cyclone Ita is forecast by meteorologists to cross the coast near Cooktown on Australia's far northeast coast between 1100 and 1400 GMT. REUTERS/NOAA/NASA/Handout via Reuters (AUSTRALIA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS April 11, 2014
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman had warned residents of the state to stay at home or in local shelters as Cyclone Ita batters Australia. He advised those whose houses were built before 1985 to immediately leave their units and go to local shelters since the homes could possibly not withstand the storm.
It was only in 1985 that new building regulations were enacted.
Winds of up to 140 miles an hour battered northern Australia on late Friday night but it has weakened to a category 2 storm. The Bureau of Meteorology had warned people living between Cape Melville and Cape Tribulation to brace for destructive winds with gusts of up to 86 miles per hour (140 kph).
Despite the weakening of the cyclone, wind gusts in excess of 110 kph were expected to hit Port Douglas and Cairns on late Saturday morning and as far south as Cardwell.
Fast-flowing water trapped residents of Cooktown where the GFES Swiftwater and SES floodboat crews rescued three children and their parents, reported Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Lee Johnson in a tweet.
The premier was stranded in Cairns although military helicopters from the 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville are on standby to help affected Queensland residents. The Black Hawks, MRH90 multi-purpose and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters could not fly yet because of the strong winds.
Mr Newman said he has informed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is in China, of the situation in Queensland.
Emergency crews are now assessing the extent of damaged from Cyclone Ita even as a cyclone warning is still effective for coastal areas from Cape Flattery to Cardwell, including Cooktown, Port Douglas and Cairns as well as inland areas, including Mareeba and Chillagoe.
Early reports said one building in the central business district lost its roof, a few power lines are down causing 9,000 homes to be without power and the streets are littered with fallen trees and debris.