A tropical cyclone battered Australia's Barrier Reef coast yesterday, knocking out power and phone lines for thousands and threatening floods, despite weakening as it headed south towards major tourist resorts.
Tens of thousands of people hunkered down overnight as strong gales and heavy rains lashed the far north, but there were no reports of casualties or major destruction as Cyclone Ita was downgraded to a category one storm.
Ita crossed the coast near Cape Flattery late on Friday as a category four storm packing winds up to 230km/h, tearing off roofs and uprooting trees.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said several thousand people across the far north of the state had lost electricity and warned that Cyclone Ita "continues to be a threat".
"I am greatly relieved at this time that we have no reports of either death or injury," he said, while urging people to stay indoors or in shelters "until this is properly over".
"There are also banana crops that are going to be decimated or severely damaged, and those are people's livelihoods as well. While there hasn't been the catastrophic impact of a category five, there will be impacts and hurt to people's lives."
As authorities started the clean up in the wake of the storm, cyclone warnings remained in force from Cooktown to the bigger Barrier Reef resorts of Port Douglas and Cairns, 1,700 kilometres north of Brisbane.
Roofs were ripped off two homes and a pub in the coastal resort of Cooktown, where several trees were uprooted during the night, officials said.
Large parts of the 1,000-strong Aboriginal community of Hope Vale and Cooktown, population 2,400, had lost power. The storm was downgraded from the strongest category five before it made landfall on Friday night.
By 3pm it was 85 kilometres northwest of Cairns and moving southeasterly at 7km/h.
Before weakening offshore, Ita had threatened to be stronger but not as widespread as the monster Cyclone Yasi system that tore through the region just over three years ago, ripping homes from their foundations and devastating crops.
Cooktown Mayor Peter Scott said he felt relieved, as he had feared waking to widespread devastation.
"There's a lot of vegetation on the road and we've unfortunately seen some buildings damaged," he said. "But there hasn't been a lot of structural damage."
Local resident Diana Spiker spent the morning walking her dog and had also expected far worse.
"They were talking about a category five at one stage, so I thought there would have been a lot more damage," she said.
The bureau's Ken Kato said Ita could be further downgraded to a tropical low.
He expected the cyclone to head out "into the Coral Sea somewhere off the north tropical coast" today or tomorrow.
"But it's still packing a fair punch," Kato added.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg