CANBERRA, Austrtalia (AP) — Tropical Cyclone Jasper crossed Australia's northeast coast on Wednesday as a category 2 storm that lashed the sparsely populated region with winds of up to 140 kph (87 mph).
Jasper had intensified from a category 1 storm on a 5-tier scale before it became the first cyclone of the current season to hit Australia, Queensland state Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.
The cyclone crossed near the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal, 110 kilometers (68 miles) north of Cairns, a city of 160,000. Wujal Wujal has a population of 300 but it was not immediately clear how many residents had evacuated.
There were no immediate reports of injury and damage had yet to be assessed.
“The message to Cairns locals and those in the warning area is to take shelter now,” Miles told reporters in Townsville as the eye of the storm approached land.
“Now is not the time to be moving around,” he added.
Emergency responders had received 150 requests for help hours before the cyclone reached the Queensland shore from the Coral Sea. Around 15,000 homes and businesses in the cyclone's path had lost power, Miles said.
Miles had flown 1,100 km (680 miles) from the Queensland capital Brisbane to Townsville on Wednesday so he would be closer to survey the damage when the sun rises on Thursday.
More than 90 people had left their homes for evacuation centers by Wednesday, officials said.
They said the residents of low-lying areas in the cyclone's path who did not feel safe should move early to evacuation centers, before conditions deteriorated.
Government meteorologist Laura Boeke said flash flooding posed the greatest threat as Jasper crossed the coast.
While the winds were expected to weaken quickly as the cyclone moved inland, flooding rains could continue for days.
“There is a risk of riverine flooding as well as storm surge,” Boeke said. “We will ... see a large amount of damage.”
Cairns Mayor Terry James urged residents to prepare for up to five days without power.
“The roads will be cut off. Potentially the power will be cut off,” he said.
Trees around Cairns began to topple in winds as strong as strong as 82 kph (51 mph) by early Wednesday.
Cairns Airport closed late Tuesday due to the worsening weather.