Destructive winds are battering far north Queensland after Cyclone Ita crossed the coast at Cape Flattery, more than 300km north of Cairns.
The category four cyclone made landfall around 9pm with winds of up to 230 kilometres an hour at its core.
Gales stretched 185 kilometres from the centre and powerful wind gusts of more than 125km/hr are expected between Cape Melville and Cooktown on Friday night and as far south as Port Douglas by Saturday morning.
Residents have been warned that properties built before 1985 may not withstand the powerful winds.
Hundreds have left their homes for cyclone shelters.
About 800 people – more than half the town’s population – in Hope Vale, 50km northwest of Cooktown, have sought refuge in the local cyclone shelter.
Hope Vale Mayor Greg McLean thinks the eye of the storm passed over the town.
“The wind has been picking up and it’s started going for it over the last half an hour,” he told AAP after Ita crossed the coast.
“It’s like the wind is roaring.”
At least one roof has been torn from a house in Cooktown, which is being battered by strong gales and heavy rain.
Cooktown Mayor Peter Scott says winds up to 125km/h are ripping though the small town.
“Here’s hoping we don’t see any more damage,” he said.
Queensland’s Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Alasdair Hainsworth said Cooktown can expect stronger winds soon.
“The average wind speed has not yet reached gale force but it’s not far short and we’re seeing very heavy rain, 40mm in the last couple of hours,” he said.
The power has been cut and about 320 people are gathered in the town’s cyclone shelter, while some have taken refuge in local pubs.
There’s a possibility that Ita could track south close to the coast, bringing wind gusts of 150km/h to Cairns on Saturday.
Coastal residents between Cape Flattery and Cape Tribulation, including Cooktown, are being warned of the dangerous storm tide.
“The sea is likely to rise steadily up to a level which will be significantly above the normal tide, with damaging waves, strong currents and flooding of low-lying areas extending some way inland,” the bureau says.