MAJOR STORM ALERT: Powerful Cyclone Ita Approaches Australia’s Northeast Coast – The Strongest In Three Years; Wind Gusts Of Up To 285 KILOMETERS AN HOUR; Destructive Winds And Damaging Floods Expected; Landfall Friday! [MAPS+VIDEO+ESTIMATES]

April 10, 2014 – AUSTRALIA – A powerful hurricane bore down on Australia’s northeast coast Thursday, threatening tourism towns, low-lying communities and crops such as sugar cane.

Cyclone Ita bears down on northeast Australia.

Officials warned that Tropical Cyclone Ita was the most powerful storm to threaten Queensland state in three years. The cyclone – as hurricanes are often known in this part of the world – is expected to batter the coast with destructive winds and damaging flooding by the time it makes landfall late Friday.

By Thursday afternoon, the storm was about 375 kilometers (233 miles) northeast of Cooktown and moving west-southwest toward the coast at 18 kilometers an hour. The storm was classed as Category 5 – the most powerful type – with wind gusts of up to 285 kilometers an hour.

In February 2011, Tropical Cyclone Yasi devastated parts of northern Queensland, causing severe flooding damage to houses and billions of dollars of losses in the state’s agriculture, mining and tourism industries.

Cylone Ita at sunset

Population density map.

About 95% of Australia’s sugar cane is grown in Queensland, including along a coastal strip running from near Port Douglas in the north to Mackay in the south.

Northern parts of the sugar cane-growing areas may be subject to flash flooding and strong winds from late Thursday running into the weekend, officials warned. Queensland is a major coal exporter, but most of its mines are located inland and well south of the cyclone’s predicted path.

Cyclone Ita poses a significant threat to communities along the far north Queensland coast, with very destructive winds near the core, Australian weather officials warned.

WATCH: Tropical Cyclone Ita nearing the Queensland Coastline.

“If it was to cross in a major urban area, it could do a lot of damage to buildings and produce quite a substantial surge and impact low-lying, coastal properties,” said Prof. Jon Nott, who studies the long-term patterns of cyclones and the impacts of storm surges at James Cook University.

The settlement of Cooktown is the closest to the cyclone’s predicted path, and is at risk of strong winds and “maybe a decent-sized storm surge,” Dr. Nott said.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman cut short a trade mission to east Asia to oversee preparations for the hurricane’s arrival, while repair crews from electricity distributor Ergon Energy were placed on alert. National parks and reserves in the state’s north were closed for safety reasons.

Cyclone Ita originated as a monsoonal low-pressure system in the Pacific, where it caused flooding in the Solomon Islands that left at least 23 dead and thousands homeless. – WSJ.

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