Australia’s North Coast Girds for Strongest Storm Since Yasi

Apr 11, 2014 9:01 am ET

(Updates with cyclone along coast from second paragraph.)

April 11 (Bloomberg) -- Residents of Australia’s Queensland state sought refuge in evacuation centers and stocked up on provisions ahead of the strongest storm since Cyclone Yasi flattened homes and felled power lines in 2011.

The storm called severe tropical Cyclone Ita is moving along the coast near Cape Flattery, about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) northwest of Brisbane, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said. The Category 4 storm is bearing destructive winds as strong as 230 kilometers per hour, the agency said.

“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,” Peter Scott, mayor of Cooktown, about 220 kilometers southeast of Cape Flattery, said in a televised interview. “There is going to be widespread damage.”

Ita is 65 kilometers north of Cooktown just offshore in the Coral Sea moving south-southwest at 10 kilometers per hour at 10 p.m. local time, according to the bureau. The cyclone, about 230 kilometers from Cairns, is expected to move south-southwest overnight and gradually weaken, it said.

Residents in Cooktown, which opened its emergency shelter yesterday, 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 already saturated by flooding, adding to a disaster bill of A$6.8 billion ($6.4 billion).

Cyclones are measured 1 to 5 with 1 the weakest and Category 5 with winds surpassing 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 on standby, he said in a televised news conference.

“This is a very serious system,” said Newman, adding that about 300 people were 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. The best-case scenario would see crop losses of about 1 percent and the worst case 10 percent, it said. Australia is the world’s third-biggest sugar exporter, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The ports in Cairns, Cooktown, Cape Flattery and Mourilyan are closed, according to Ports North, which manages the facilities.

The storm area affected is north of the main coal-producing area in Queensland, the biggest exporter of the steel-making variety.

--With assistance from David Stringer and Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne.