Far north Queenslanders in Cyclone Nathan’s firing line have been told to brace for a more frightening and destructive storm than the one they endured a year ago.
The Bureau of Meteorology expects Nathan to cross the coast just north of Cape Flattery, near the towns of Hope Vale and Cooktown, around 4am on Friday as a category four system that will deliver winds of up to 260km/h.
But the bureau hasn’t ruled out Nathan, which first threatened the coastline last week, intensifying into a maximum-strength category five before it made landfall.
“Tonight will be a frightening event for many families,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. “I express on behalf of all Queenslanders that our thoughts and prayers are with all those families.
Cooktown residents have been advised Nathan will pack a bigger punch than Cyclone Ita, which they weathered last April when it unleashed 200km/h winds.
Large trees were toppled, roofs were ripped from homes and a nearby banana plantation at Hope Vale was destroyed by Ita.
Cyclone Nathan’s arrival will also herald a unnerving sense of deja vu for north Queensland, given it will hit on the ninth anniversary of Cyclone Larry which brought widespread destruction as a category five system.
At 5pm AEST on Thursday, Nathan was a category three with wind gusts of up to 195km/h, situated about 165km east of Cape Flattery.
Bureau spokesman Neil Bennett says Nathan’s wrath would be felt in the region for hours, given its likely to still be a category two cyclone by 2pm on Friday – about 10 hours after first making landfall.
“It’s a reasonably small cyclone in terms of its actual size, but the impact it’s going to have is over a fairly large area,” he told AAP.
Mr Bennett said there was also a risk that Cyclone Nathan, despite weakening over land, could reform once it crossed Queensland and reached open water in the Gulf of Carpenteria.
The bureau’s regional director, Rob Webb, summed Nathan’s impact up succinctly: “This is a small system, but it does pack a punch.”
Ms Palaszczuk on Thursday urged affected communities to make preparations before nightfall and said government agencies, which had recently dealt with category five Cyclone Marcia, would be on hand to assist.
She said 72 police, more than 50 SES personnel and more than 400 Ergon Energy workers were on guard.
“We are preparing for the worst, but we are prepared,” she said.
Cooktown’s cyclone shelter was this month downgraded to a place of refuge while an assessment of its structural integrity is carried out, although mayor Peter Scott was confident of its strength as it opened on Thursday afternoon.
But he stressed the best place for residents to be was at home if their house was built after 1985.