AROUND 7000 houses remain without power after Cyclone Ita battered Queensland and authorities have warned it could be months until it is restored.
Many have taken refuge in evacuation shelters until it is safe to go home as the state continues to be lashed with heavy rain.
Houses without roofs, uprooted trees, fallen power lines and wild weather greeted Cooktown residents today after the cylone hit overnight.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s Ken Kato said Ita was about 85 kilometres south of Cooktown at 1pm and was moving south about nine kilometres per hour.
It has now been downgraded from a category four to a category one cyclone.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman warned the dangers were not over during a press conference at 11am, with risks of flash flooding as the state’s north coast continues to be lashed by driving rain.
“This is a time to stay put until things have returned to normal,” said Mr Newman.
Cookstown’s West Coast Hotel, one of the older pubs in town, lost its roof and sustained extensive damage after the cyclone hit last night.
Dave Austin, who was sleeping in the pub when the roof was torn off, said he heard a rip at about 1am.
“Then we heard this tin sliding, then the rain started coming in. Not everywhere, but in some parts. We all got wet, but not soaking,” he said.
The storm surge and resulting high tide also caused damage to the Cooktown pontoon and to homes in the area.
A house beside the museum lost parts of its roof, and the owners, who come from South Australia, said they would probably leave town.
“It’s just the last straw, really,” said the woman, who did not want to be named.
But there was relief among townspeople who found that the damage was not as bad as had been feared. There are no reports of deaths or injuries.
A family had to be rescued this morning on a flooded road just south of Cooktown.
Mr Newman warned people to avoid travelling if possible and to check for road closures.
He said he was concerned about Hopevale because the town has no landline or mobile phone connections.
An important banana plantation in the area used by the Aboriginal community could also have been affected.
North Queenslanders have been assured that the Australian and Queensland Governments will provide assistance to help them prepare for, respond to and recover from the cyclone.
Federal Minister for Justice Michael Keenan and Queensland Minister for Police, Fire and emergency Services Jack Dempsey have announced emergency assistance has been made available in the local government areas of Cairns, Cook, Douglas, Hope Vale, Mareeba and Wujal Wujal.
“The Commonwealth and Queensland Governments have moved swiftly to make emergency assistance available under the jointly-funded Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements,” Mr Keenan said.
Cyclone warnings are current for coastal areas from Cape Melville to Cardwell, including Cooktown, Port Douglas and Cairns, and extending inland to areas including Mareeba and Chillagoe. Damaging winds with gusts to 120km/h are possible south of Cooktown to Port Douglas for a brief period this afternoon, BoM also advises.
Emergency crews have been assessing damage as the cyclone tracks south.
Ita crossed the coast near Cape Flattery, with winds near the centre up to 230km/h, at about 10pm last night. By midnight, Ita had been downgraded to category three with wind gusts of up to 117km/h recorded in Cooktown just after midnight.