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Cyclone Niran still a threat for north Qld

Some banana crops have been wiped out as cyclone Niran intensifies off the far north Queensland coast.

Niran is expected to become a category three storm within 24 hours and while it’s not expected to cross the coast, gale-force winds have stripped banana trees leaving farmers in despair.

It is currently a category two cyclone sitting 335 kilometres northeast of Cairns, packing sustained winds of 100 km/h, gusting to 140 km/h.

A warning for gale-force winds is current from Cape Melville, north of Cooktown, to Innisfail, south of Cairns.

“We are expecting to see gale-force winds with damaging wind gusts resume over this warning area later on Wednesday, and potentially lingering into tomorrow as well,” the weather bureau said.

Abnormally high tides are no longer expected on the north tropical coast as Niran moves offshore.

Strong wind warnings are expanded from the Mackay coast down to Sunshine Coast waters.

About 4000 people were without power in the Cairns region on Wednesday morning, down from about 42,000 on Monday afternoon when Niran – then just a low pressure system – pushed damaging winds ashore.

SES teams have been busy attending to damaged roofs and downed trees, and there have been reports of minor structural damage to sheds and outbuildings in the Cairns area.

Cairns deputy mayor Terry James says the cyclone is following the predictions from the Bureau of Meteorology.

“We have to be prepared, just in case this thing decides to have a mind of its own and come towards us,” he said.

“We are still in the warning zone which means we have to remain vigilant.

He says council crews are still fielding calls from residents due to power outages and urged the community to be patient.

“Council works crews are out there doing the main priorities, which is the main roads, the footpaths, and the drains.”

“They’re working their way through the parks and they’ll get to your area soon, so be patient, and log your incident on the council website.”

Banana farmers have suffered heavy losses, with some saying they’ve lost 100 per cent of their crops.

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council says it’s too early to estimate losses, but it’s clear the bill will be significant particularly for growers around Innisfail and most of the Cassowary Coast region.

“It’s another bitter blow to growers who have suffered enormously with consecutive years of low prices and more recently critical worker shortages due to COVID,” council chair Stephen Lowe said.

Cassowary Coast grower Dianna Sciacca says she and her farmer neighbours expect to be without incomes until September or October.

“Most of the farms beside us, they’re looking at 90 to 100 per cent (damage), we’re probably 80 to 90,” she has told the ABC.

Communities from Cape Melville to Innisfail, including Cooktown, Port Douglas, and Cairns have been warned to prepare for more wild weather before the cyclone begins to track further offshore.

The Townsville radar went offline on Sunday, but the weather bureau has re-assured the community this hasn’t affected its ability to issue forecasts and warnings.

It’s estimated to be up and running again by Thursday.

Two people were rescued from floodwaters near the Star River, west of Townsville, about 9.30pm on Monday.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said residents should follow the bureau for updates.

“My main message today to people in the far north, and they’ve dealt with heavy rain before and cyclones so they know exactly what they’re doing, but if it’s flooded, forget it,” she said on Tuesday.

Tara Bennett, from Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, said her area had not suffered any damage.

She’s worried reports of wild weather across the far north could result in more cancellations for local operators, who are heavily dependent on international tourists who can’t visit because of the pandemic.

“We have barely had a gust of wind or rain,” she has told the ABC.

“I want people to be confident that our travel experiences are open. In a day or two the skies will be clear.”

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