Residents of Australia’s Queensland state sought refuge in evacuation centers and stocked up on provisions ahead of the strongest storm since Cyclone Yasi flattened homes and downed power lines in 2011.

The storm called severe tropical Cyclone Ita will hit the coast near Cape Flattery, about 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) northwest of the state capital Brisbane, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on its website.

(This article includes updates as of April 11, 2014, 7 a.m.)

It’s due to come ashore as a Category 4 storm, with destructive winds as strong as 275 kilometers per hour, the agency said.

“There is going to be widespread damage,” Peter Scott, the mayor of Cooktown, about 220 kilometers southeast of Cape Flattery, said in a televised interview. “Once that wind gets over 80 kilometers per hour, it’s dangerous. Sheets of iron will cut you in half, roofs will start to lift.”

Residents in Cooktown, which opened its emergency shelter early Thursday after Ita intensified off the coast, were warned to evacuate homes if they were built before 1985. Yasi struck the Queensland coast three years ago as a category 5 cyclone, leveling sugar crops and swamping coal mines in a state that was already saturated by flooding, adding to a natural disaster bill of A$6.8 billion ($6.4 billion).

Ita is 80 kilometers north-northeast of Cooktown and moving south-southwest at 11 kilometers per hour, according to the bureau. Cyclones are measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the weakest. A category 5 storm has wind gusts of more than 279 kilometers per hour.

Power Outages

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, who cut short a trade trip to Asia, warned of storm surges, potential flooding and power outages for as long as a month. About 700 people are seeking refuge in the shelter at Hope Vale, 46 kilometers northwest of Cooktown, and emergency teams were on standby, he said in a televised press conference today.

“This is a very serious system,” said Newman, adding about 300 people were being housed in the Cooktown shelter. “If it comes across Hope Vale and Cooktown they will be seriously impacted and we expect houses that were built prior to 1985 will be knocked over or severely damaged.”

About 5 percent of Australia’s sugar cane crop may be lost if the storm develops as expected, Commodity Weather Group LLC said in a report yesterday. The best-case scenario would see crop losses of about 1 percent and the worst case 10 percent, it said. Australia is the world’s third-biggest sugar exporter, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The ports of Cape Flattery and Cooktown were closed at 5 a.m. local time, according to Ports North, which manages the facilities. An advisory, known as a blue alert, to prepare for destructive winds within 12 hours and moor small vessels in sheltered areas has been issued for the Ports of Cairns and Mourilyan, it said.

Ita is forecast to make landfall north of the main coal producing area in Queensland, the world’s biggest exporter of the steel-making variety.

–With assistance from David Stringer and Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne.