Warning: Prepare for record tides and flooding from Ita
FEARS severe Tropical Cyclone Ita may just be the trigger for a disaster of far greater proportions have prompted authorities to warn residents across the Queensland coast to prepare for record tides and flooding.
Evacuations have been in place since Wednesday night in low lying areas between Port Douglas and Cape Grenville where the cyclone is expected to make landfall at about 10pm Friday, bringing with it 280km winds and a tidal surge up to a metre and a half higher than the region has experienced in past weather disasters.
If, as expected, the monster storm crosses the Far North Coast just north of Cooktown, the 9000 people living in the area will likely have had the chance to leave or move into one of a number of cyclone shelters between Cooktown and northern Cairns built to withstand a Category Five storm.
There were concerns on Thursday morning that some were living or holidaying in areas so remote, they may not have got the message, but by the afternoon, camping grounds had been cleared and helicopters were expected to be dispatched to remote areas to ensure no-one had been left behind.
Speaking to reporters at Disaster Management headquarters in Brisbane on Thursday, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said co-ordinators were confident people in far-northern communities were used to dealing with cyclones but warned flooding was inevitable and likely to be widespread.
Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands are expected to be the first regions to experience monsoonal rain in the aftermath but the bureau has predicted a rain depression, not seen since Cyclone Oswald caused record flooding across the state and sparked a state of emergency at Bundaberg, could once again head south.
Mr Newman urged people in coastal communities not to "underestimate the rain" and said residents warned to evacuate needed to listen to authorities to avoid the kind of post Oswald scenes at Bundaberg where people were being winched from roofs because they failed to leave when asked.
In the coming days, the focus will remain in the region north of Cairns where smaller communities have been warned to brace for power outages and lost water supply for up to three weeks.
Energy and Water Minister Mark McArdle said mobile emergency restoration substations known as Pegasus Units, had been deployed to the danger zone ahead of Ita's arrival.
The units were designed by Ergon Energy to survive Category Five storms and proved vital during to Oswald recovery effort.
From Friday morning, the weather bureau will issue hourly warnings on Ita's predicted path.
Updates can be found at www.bom.gov.au