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Residents north of Cairns are evacuating their homes as the weather bureau forecasts Ita turning into the worst kind of cyclone - a category five.
The weather bureau now advises people in far north Queensland living 200 kilometres inland to be prepared.
People are being evacuated between Cape Grenville and Cape Tribulation, just north of Cairns, as Cyclone Ita is upgraded to warning status.
While Ita is still a category three over the Coral Sea, Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Peter Otto says it could intensify into a category five system, the most destructive kind of cyclone since Yasi hit the state's north in 2011.
"It is expected to still make impact as a high category four system so it's getting up to the very top of the possible strengths," he told ABC radio.
"It is, in fact, possible to even make impact as a category five."
Ita was estimated to be 580km northeast of Cooktown at 4am (AEST) on Thursday, and is expected to make landfall late on Friday between Lockhart River and Cape Flattery.
Premier Campbell Newman is flying back to Queensland on Thursday to oversee cyclone preparations, after cutting short an Asia trade trip with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Very heavy rain is expected to develop around the Peninsula and North Tropical coast and Tablelands districts late on Thursday and into the weekend.
A watch has been declared for areas up to 200km inland, including Kalinga, Laura, Palmerville and Chillagoe.
Fifty mine workers north of Cooktown are already abandoning the Cape Flattery silica mine township, News Corp Australia reports.
The regional director of Queensland's State Emergency Service, Wayne Coutts, is urging residents north of Cairns to move as soon as possible.
The storm comes three years after category five Yasi ripped through Queensland, causing $3.5 billion damage and lost tourism earnings.