Australia's north battens down for cyclone

SYDNEY - Northeastern Australia battened down Thursday in preparation for a strong cyclone forecast to hit coastal areas north of Cairns, one of the gateways to the Great Barrier Reef.

Tropical Cyclone Nathan, currently a category three storm, was tracking back towards the Cooktown area, some 260 kilometres (160 miles) from popular tourist destination Cairns, having first threatened the coast last week before moving out to sea.

It was expected to make landfall as a category four on Friday morning, packing wind gusts of up to 230 kilometres (142 miles) per hour, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

"Not all residents will receive category four- or category three-strength winds, but if you are in the warning zone it's important to continue or commence your preparations now if you have not already started," said Rob Webb, the bureau's Queensland director.

"This includes using daylight hours to secure boats and property." Cooktown has a population of around 2,500 and Queensland's State Disaster Management Committee met in Brisbane to review emergency plans.

"Can I please stress to everyone this is a serious situation, but we do have the rest of the day to prepare," said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

"The other good news is that we do not expect it to coincide with high tide." Nathan arrives after Super Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu, east of Queensland, last Friday and follows two fierce storms that hit northern Australia within hours of each other in February.

The first, Tropical Cyclone Lam, smashed remote communities in the Northern Territory while Marcia, a maximum category five tempest, tore through the east of Queensland, wrecking hundreds of homes and cutting electricity to tens of thousands.

Cyclones, which are common in northeastern Australia, range from one to five in strength, with five the most severe.