Queensland on Flash-Flood Alert as Cyclone Ita Hugs Coast

Apr 13, 2014 1:32 am ET

(Updates with position of cyclone in second paragraph.)

April 13 (Bloomberg) -- Queensland remains on alert for flash floods and destructive winds as Tropical Cyclone Ita hugs the northern coast of Australia’s second-largest state.

Gales with gusts of up to 110 kilometers (68 miles) an hour are forecast as the Category 1 cyclone, which was near Ayr, 1,050 kilometers northwest of Brisbane at 3 p.m. local time, moves southeast at 26 km an hour. Ita may dump as much as 400 millimeters (15.7 inches) of rain within 24 hours on some areas, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Since making landfall above Cairns on the evening of April 11 as a Category 4 cyclone -- the second-most intense on the rankings scale -- Ita has ripped off roofs, cut power and closed ports. It weakened after crossing land and no serious injuries have been reported, prompting Cooktown Mayor Peter Scott to declare the town had escaped serious damage after being near the eye of the storm.

“We’ve been very, very lucky,” Scott said in a phone interview today. “Some buildings have been damaged but in the main we’ve escaped with minimal problems. High water levels are still a problem. Electricity is gradually being put back on.”

More than 13,000 people spent last night without power, Queensland Energy and Water Supply Minister Mark McArdle said in a statement today. Crews attempting to reconnect electricity supplies were battling “heavy rains, localized flooding and continued Category 1 cyclonic wind gusts,” he said.

Ita has been the strongest storm to hit the Queensland coast since 2011, when Category 5 Cyclone Yasi leveled sugar crops and swamped coal mines, adding to a disaster bill of A$6.8 billion ($6.4 billion). Any damage to sugarcane, banana crops or mines from the current storm is expected to take days to assess.

Ports of Cooktown, Cairns, Cape Flattery and Mourilyan were all reopened by 7:30 a.m. today, according to Ports North, which manages the facilities.