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Ex-Cyclone Owen downgraded to tropical low half a day after crossing Queensland coast

Saturday December 15, 2018 - 20:14 EDT
ABC licensed image
The storm crossed the coast south of Kowanyama. - ABC licensed
ABC licensed image
Cyclonic rain falling on a cattle property south of Kowanyama on Saturday morning. - ABC licensed

More than half a day after crossing Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria coast as a category three system, ex-Tropical Cyclone Owen has been downgraded to a tropical low as it moves across Cape York toward the Coral Sea, bringing steady rain to the state's northern coast.

Owen made landfall south of Kowanyama around 3:00am, packing wind gusts of up to 170 kilometres per hour.

By 3:45pm, it was still a category one cyclone with wind gusts of 95kph and sustained winds of 65kph near the centre, moving eastwards at about 20kph.

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Michael Knepp said it was not unusual for a cyclone to persist so long over land.

"Sometimes these tropical cyclones can maintain tropical cyclone strength as they move inland, but they do usually weaken as they move over the land and that's what this system has been doing," Mr Knepp said.

It was downgraded to a tropical low at 4:00pm.

Rainfall across northern Queensland has been steady rather than torrential, but there were some impressive daily totals.

Between 9:00am and 7:00pm on Saturday, Innisfail recorded 149 millimetres of rain, Cowley Beach 135mm, Copperlode Dam west of Cairns had 130mm, and Mission Beach received 98mm.

Earlier on Saturday, Diana Eadie from the BOM said forecasters expected the system to move out to sea past the Cardwell area and there was a minor chance of it redeveloping.

"Regardless, the impacts are still going to be significant," she said.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty with the movement of this system. We're expecting it to move south-east and over the water and run parallel to the coast for the next 24 to 48 hours."

She said the heaviest rainfall was going to be largely confined to the east coast, rather than south-western parts of Queensland.

Indigenous communities spared from cyclone wrath

Emergency services in the Indigenous community Kowanyama said the area is safe, and residents have been free to leave their homes since mid morning.

It was a huge let-off for a town that had been preparing for a battering from a category four cyclone.

Queensland state disaster coordinator Bob Gee praised the community efforts of Kowanyama and Pormpuraaw.

"Two small Indigenous communities in the Gulf asked for help, they received help. They were prepared, they did lots of hard work and it's worked for them. Most importantly as a community they came together and opened their doors to each other," he said.

"I think it's a remarkable thing what those two small communities what they've done over the last 48 to 72 hours and an example to others."

SES far north controller James Gegg said there had been minimal damage after the system lost intensity as it crossed the coast.

"Police in Kowanyama have been doing a drive around and deemed the streets all safe," he said.

"They're sounding sirens now on the police vehicles to let the community know they are able to come out of their homes which will obviously be a relief for everyone."

There have been no reports of damage, but the cyclone brought damaging winds and rain, with falls up to 300 millimetres expected in some areas.

QFES commissioner Katarina Carroll said it was the "best-case scenarios we've seen in a long time".

"We're extraordinarily grateful for that … it'd be great if all cyclones behaved like this," she said.

"But please do not be complacent, particularly in that north-east tropics area where the rains will continue."

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Mornington Island, Porpuraaw and Kowanyama were safe.

"A big sigh of relief and there's a lot of happy people I can tell you, not just in the communities, but down here in Brisbane," she said.

"We're going to be monitoring the system of course over the next 24 hours.

"We need everyone to be listening to authorities and making sure that they are safe."

Farmers relieved no damage on properties

Liz Hutchins and her husband manage a cattle property near Kowanyama, and said they bunkered down with their two children, but the bad weather did not eventuate.

"I have a four-year-old boy. He was excited that it was going to get windy and blow his bike away. But they just slept. They didn't realise anything was happening," she said.

"We feel really, really relieved.

"We were dreading walking out this morning and seeing branches and trees and roofs and all sorts of things down, so we couldn't feel any more relieved.

"Today I think we're going to have a celebratory coffee."

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Mike Wassing said crews had spent the day inspecting the Gulf communities.

"There looks to be some trees down and some possible power lines down," he said.

"But it looks like a good outcome."

Mr Wassing said there can be still be storms embedded in the system.

"But there is a risk of flash flooding and we're very conscious that's the start of school holidays. There'll be a lot of travelling public," he said.

"Watch out for rainfall, watch out for flash flooding. Do not drive through flooded waters at all."


© ABC 2018

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