Cyclone batters Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coast

Cyclone batters Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coast
Tropical Cyclone Ita is seen approaching the far north Queensland coast of Australia.

SYDNEY - A tropical cyclone battered Australia's Barrier Reef coast Saturday, knocking out power and phone lines for thousands of people as officials warned the storm "continues to be a threat" despite weakening in force.

Tens of thousands of people hunkered down overnight as strong gales and heavy rains lashed the far north but no deaths or major destruction was reported as cyclone Ita was downgraded to a category one storm.

Ita crossed the coast near Cape Flattery late Friday as a category four storm packing winds up to 230 kilometres per hour (140 miles per hour), tearing off roofs and uprooting trees.

Queensland state Premier Campbell Newman said several thousand people across the far north had lost electricity and warned that cylone Ita "continues to be a threat" as it tracked south across the state.

"I am greatly relieved at this time that we have no reports of either death or injury," he told a press conference, while urging people to stay indoors or in shelters "until this is properly over".

A state cabinet meeting was underway to organise the clean up operation and assess how quickly electricity and communication lines could be restored, the premier said.

Cyclone warnings remained in force for coastal areas from Cape Flattery to Cardwell, including Cooktown and the major Barrier Reef resorts of Port Douglas and Cairns, 1,700 kilometres (1,060 miles) north of Brisbane.

Roofs were ripped off two homes and a pub in the coastal resort of Cooktown where several trees were uprooted during the night, officials said.

Large parts of the 1,000 strong Aboriginal community of Hope Vale and Cooktown, population 2,400, had lost power.

The storm was downgraded from the strongest category five before it made landfall Friday night.

At 11:00 am (0100 GMT Saturday) the Bureau of Meteorology said Ita had weakened to a category one and was 115 kilometres northwest of Cairns and moving south at 11 kilometres an hour.

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