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Cyclone Ita downgraded but still a danger in far north Queensland

As tropical cyclone Ita approached the Queensland coast last week, there was fear of impending devastation. Those fears proved largely unfounded on Saturday, although the threat of widespread flooding remained.

Ita was rated a category 5 monster and it had the far north Queensland community of Cooktown in its sights. More than 300 residents sought refuge in the local cyclone shelter, but in the end only a few properties were affected - including the now-roofless West Coast Hotel.

But Queensland was not entirely out of danger.

Ita, which crossed the coast as a category 4 storm at about 10pm on Friday near Cape Flattery, was down to a category 1 cyclone by Saturday afternoon.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Ken Kato said Ita was likely to be downgraded to a tropical low late on Saturday.

As of 3pm, Ita had moved south to within 85 kilometres of Cairns, which was experiencing heavy rains and howling wind.


It was those conditions that prevented a planned trip to Cooktown from Cairns by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. While the Premier, disaster recovery staff and media waited on the tarmac for takeoff, Government Air Wing pilots decided their aircraft would be unlikely the to be able to return safely to Cairns, from where the emergency response was being co-ordinated.

The flight to Cooktown was cancelled just minutes before take-off. Mr Newman is expected in the town on Sunday.

The Premier said while the far north of the state had escaped initial devastation, he still held concerns for communities further south as Ita continued to travel down the coast. Despite the region seemingly being spared the widespread damage feared earlier, he said, far north Queensland was not in the clear.

''The threat that remains is that as it moves south, you'll have the flooding impacts on the tablelands and the coastal strip,'' he said.

No deaths were reported on Saturday, but there was real danger. Queensland Fire and Emergency Services confirmed that two adults and three children had to be rescued from floodwaters 10 kilometres south of Cooktown on Saturday morning.

Mr Newman urged people in cyclone-affected areas of Cairns to avoid non-essential travel. ''Let's not see this turn into an absolute tragedy with someone trying to go through a creek crossing and being swept away,'' he said.

''That is a real threat today and over the next few days.''

By midday on Saturday, State Emergency Service volunteers had responded to 60 requests for help, most relating to roof damage, fallen trees and flooding.

Ergon Energy said at least 7000 customers were without power across far north Queensland and network crews would assess the damage ''when it is safe to do so''.

Among the affected areas were Cooktown, Mossman, Kuranda, Hope Vale and parts of the Atherton Tablelands, as well as pockets of Cairns.