Cyclone brushes northeastern Australia

/ Source: The Associated Press

A tropical cyclone packing winds of up to 137 mph and torrential rain lashed Australia's remote northeastern coast Wednesday, sparking flooding fears in a major tourist town a month after another storm left thousands in the region homeless.

Cyclone Monica crossed the coast south of the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River around midday Wednesday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage but heavy rainfall sparked fear of flooding in the major tourist city of Cairns, about 310 miles south of Lockhart River.

A Cairns City Council spokesman told Australian Associated Press that the city's main water supply, Copperlode Dam, was rapidly rising and up to 1,000 people could be evacuated if the levels got too high.

"There may be (a) need to evacuate during the hours of the night," he said. AAP did not report the spokesman's name.

"It's not getting any better and we're expecting a lot of rain tonight and a lot tomorrow morning," the spokesman added.

All trips to the Great Barrier Reef were abandoned Wednesday because of the storm and flights in and out of Cairns canceled. The city is the main starting point for boat trips to the reef.

The Kuranda Railway, a popular tourist train which winds through World Heritage protected tropical rainforest near the city, also was halted because of a landslide along the line.

Peter Buckland, the chief executive officer of the Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council said the community of about 700 people was experienced in preparing for cyclones, having been hit by category-four Cyclone Ingrid in March last year.

"We've had another miraculous survival from another one (cyclone)," Buckland told the Ten television network after the eye of the storm passed close by the community.

The cyclone was still hovering over Queensland state's Cape York Peninsula late Wednesday and was unlikely to clear the area until early Thursday morning, according to Mike Keating, the chief police officer in the northern city of Cairns.

A senior forecaster with the Bureau of Meteorology, Manfred Greitschus, said Cyclone Monica was slowly losing intensity as it moved over land at about 9 mph.

"It has been weakening very slowly but it's still a severe tropical cyclone," he said.

Last month, category-five Cyclone Larry — the most powerful cyclone to hit northeastern Australia in decades — tore through the rural community of Innisfail, about 60 miles south of Cairns, destroying thousands of homes and devastating banana and sugar cane plantations.

Innisfail is about 60 miles south of Cairns.