Tropical Cyclone Ita leaves trail of destruction along far north Queensland coast

As Cyclone Ita slowly approached the Queensland coast over the past week, the fear of impending devastation was real.

But those fears proved largely unfounded on Saturday, although the threat of widespread flooding remained.

Ita was a category 5 monster – more powerful than Yasi – and it had the far north Queensland community of Cooktown firmly in its sights.

Map: The path of cyclone Ita

More than 300 residents sought refuge in the Cooktown cyclone shelter, but in the end only a few properties were affected – including the now-roofless West Coast Hotel.

While the immediate devastation was avoided, Queensland was not entirely out of the woods.

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

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

As of 3pm, Ita had moved south to within 85 kilometres of Cairns, which was experiencing heavy rain 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 take off, Government Air Wing pilots decided it would be unlikely the Beechcraft King Air would be able to safely return to Cairns, where the emergency response was being coordinated.

The flight to Cooktown was aborted just minutes before take-off.

Mr Newman is expected in Cooktown 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 its journey down the coast.

Mr Newman said despite the region seemingly being spared the widespread damage feared earlier in the week, far north Queensland was not out of the woods.

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

There were no deaths reported on Saturday, but there was danger.

Queensland Fire and Emergency 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 Cairns to avoid non-essential travel.

“Let’s not see this turn into an absolute tragedy with someone dying from 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 Saturday, State Emergency Service volunteers were responding to 60 requests for help across Queensland, 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.

The story Tropical Cyclone Ita leaves trail of destruction along far north Queensland coast first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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