Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has cut short an Asian trade mission and returned to Brisbane as the state prepares for tropical cyclone Ita.
Residents north of Cairns are evacuating their homes as the weather bureau forecasts Ita turning into a category five storm with winds of more than 220km/h.
AAP reports people are being evacuated between Cape Grenville and Cape Tribulation, just north of Cairns.
Mr Newman warned far north Queensland residents to be prepared for significant damage to the electricity network.
"People could contemplate power outages for many weeks and up to a month," he said. "We all should be prepared for a big storm."
The Bureau of Meteorology advises people in far north Queensland, living 300km inland, to be on alert.
Forecaster Peter Otto said Ita could be the most destructive kind of cyclone since Yasi hit the north in 2011.
Ita was estimated to be 525km northeast of Cooktown at 7.34am (AEST) on Thursday and is expected to make landfall between Lockhart River and Cape Flattery late on Friday.
Very heavy rain is expected to develop around the Peninsula and North Tropical coast and Tablelands districts late on Thursday and into the weekend.
Yasi caused $A3.5 billion damage and lost tourism earnings.