More than 9,000 people in north Queensland will be "directly impacted" by tropical cyclone Ita as the weather howler hits land on Friday night. The weather disturbance has been upgraded to the highest category 5 level. Winds strength is expected to reach 285km/h or more. Its speed has likewise increased from 16km/h to 18km/h.
Ports North has advised the ports Cape Flattery and Cooktown to suspend operations and move small vessels to sheltered areas following the category upgrade. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said on its website the category 5 Cyclone Ita will bring with it very destructive winds.
Weather forecasters also said cyclone Ita will cause flash flooding with rainfalls hitting 400 millimetres.
"It has definitely intensified over the last six hours and it is showing a structure with a real evident eye in the centre," Andrew Bufalino, senior forecaster, said.
Campbell Newman, Queensland State Premier, has likened the strength of the incoming howler to the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan which struck and wiped out parts of South East Asia and killed more than 6200 people. Apart from the high winds and flash flooding, he warned people to stay alert for tsunami-like storm surges.
"The big concerns that people need to be preparing themselves for are storm surge, which means that in low-lying areas water much higher than normal tides - a metre-and-a-half higher than the highest tide you'd normally ever see, a metre-and-a-half, and that could be all the way down the coast through Cooktown at places like Port Douglas, that is the worst case scenario at this stage," Mr Newman, who cut short an Asian trip to arrive in Cooktown earlier on Thursday, said.
"We urge people to ... protect themselves and their families right now."
Locals have started going around the business of preparations and evacuations.
Bottled water and bread have been sold out in supermarket shelves in Cairns. Government authorities likewise reminded to charge mobile phones and prepare an emergency kit, that should include a radio and batteries, drinking water and non-perishable foods.
The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service issued the following additional advice to residents in the warning zone:
- For Cooktown and local environs if your home was built before 1985 there is a high risk that it may not withstand Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Ita.
- Think seriously about relocating to another location. Seek shelter with family or friends or go to the local cyclone shelter.
- If your home was built after 1985 it should be able to withstand the cyclone and you should be able to take shelter there.
- If you intend to shelter in your house choose the location likely to be the most cyclone resistant, e.g. the bathroom
- Close off any apps or smartphones that you don't need as they take up battery power.
- Include medical supplies or medicines to cover for up to a week after the storm in your emergency kit.
Fishermen tried their best to tie up their boats. The rest is pinned on hope they get to see again their boats in the same way after the cyclone passes.
"We just rammed it as far up into the mangroves as we could," David Middleton, Coral trout fisherman who tied his owner up on the Endeavour River, was quoted by Courier Mail.
"This is Mother Nature at its most awesome and malevolent, she's coming to wipe us out."
Cattle owners have less options. ""What can we do about the cattle, tie them down? There is nothing we can do,'' Shaun O'Brien, a property caretaker, said.
"It is a significant system and that's why we're taking it seriously," Mr Newman said.
Queensland's last mammoth cyclone of the same category 5 was Yasi in 2011. The howler leveled sugar crops and swamped coal mines with floods. The natural disaster bill that time reached A$6.8 billion ($6.4 billion), according to Bloomberg figures.