Australia's north-east battens down in preparation for Tropical Cyclone Nathan

SYDNEY (AFP) - North-eastern Australia was battening down Thursday in preparation for a strong cyclone forecast to hit coastal areas north of the city of Cairns, one of the gateways for the Great Barrier Reef.

Tropical Cyclone Nathan, currently a category three storm, was tracking back towards the Cooktown area, some 260km from popular tourist destination Cairns, having threatened the coast last week before moving out to sea. It was expected to make landfall as a category four on Friday morning, packing wind gusts of up to 230 kmh, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

"Not all residents will receive category four- or category three-strength winds, but if you are in the warning zone it's important to continue or commence your preparations now if you have not already started," said Mr Rob Webb, the bureau's Queensland director. "This includes using daylight hours to secure boats and property."

Cooktown has a population of around 2,500 and Queensland's State Disaster Management Committee was due to meet in Brisbane on Thursday to review emergency plans.

Nathan arrives on the heels of Super Cyclone Pam that devastated neighbouring Vanuatu last Friday and follows two fierce storms that hit northern Australia within hours of each other in February.

The first, Tropical Cyclone Lam, smashed remote communities in the Northern Territory while Marcia, a maximum category five tempest, tore through the east of Queensland, wrecking hundreds of homes and cutting electricity to tens of thousands.

Cyclones, which are common in north-eastern Australia, range from one to five in strength, with five the most severe.