Australia’s North Braces for Storm Stronger Than 2011’s Yasi

Residents in Australia’s Queensland state are seeking refuge in evacuation centers and stocking up on provisions, bracing for a cyclone that’s stronger than a 2011 storm that destroyed homes and downed power lines.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita will hit the coast tonight between Cape Melville and Cooktown, about 1,555 kilometers (966 miles) northwest of the state capital Brisbane, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on its website. It will make landfall as a category 5 storm and will be stronger than Yasi in 2011, packing very destructive winds with speeds of as much as 300 kilometers per hour near its core, the bureau said.

“There is going to be widespread damage,” Peter Scott, the mayor of Cooktown, said in a televised interview. “Once that wind gets over 80 kilometers per hour, it’s dangerous. Sheets of iron will cut you in half, roofs will start to lift.”

Residents in Cooktown, which opened its emergency shelter early yesterday after Ita intensified off the coast, were warned to evacuate homes if they were built before 1985. Yasi struck the Queensland coast three years ago as a category 5 cyclone, leveling sugar crops and swamping coal mines in a state that was already saturated by flooding, adding to a natural disaster bill of A$6.8 billion ($6.4 billion).

Ita is 175 kilometers north-northeast of Cooktown and moving south-southwest at 10 kilometers per hour, according to the bureau. Cyclones are measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the weakest. A category 5 storm has wind gusts of more than 279 kilometers per hour.

Power Outages

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, who cut short a trade trip to Asia, warned of storm surges, potential flooding and power outages for as long as a month. About 700 people are seeking refuge in the shelter at Hope Vale, 46 kilometers northwest of Cooktown, and emergency teams were put on standby, he said in a televised press conference today.

“This is a very serious system,” said Newman, adding about 300 people were being housed in the Cooktown shelter. “If it comes across Hope Vale and Cooktown they will be seriously impacted and we expect houses that were built prior to 1985 will be knocked over or severely damaged.”

About 5 percent of Australia’s sugar cane crop may be lost if the storm develops as expected, Commodity Weather Group LLC said in a report yesterday. The best-case scenario would see about 1 percent of the crop lost and the worst-case is losses of 10 percent, it said. Australia is the world’s third-biggest sugar exporter, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The ports of Cape Flattery and Cooktown were closed at 5 a.m. local time, according to Ports North, which manages the facilities. An advisory, known as a blue alert, to prepare for destructive winds within 12 hours and moor small vessels in sheltered areas has been issued for the Ports of Cairns and Mourilyan, it said.

Ita is forecast to make landfall north of the main coal producing area in Queensland, the world’s biggest exporter of the steel-making variety.

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