SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ A cyclone barreled toward northeastern Australia on Wednesday, as residents of the sparsely populated region's island resorts and coastal communities fled or fortified their homes.

Cyclone Ingrid had wind gusts up to 175 mph on Wednesday, and forecasters warned that if it struck a town directly it could do more damage than one that killed 65 people in the northern city of Darwin in 1974.

Ingrid was expected to hit northern Queensland state early Thursday. It bore down on communities spanning north about 220 miles from Port Douglas, a tourist site visited by former President Clinton and a jump-off site for the Great Barrier Reef.

Several Aboriginal communities near Coen, a tiny settlement of 250 people, were evacuated ahead of the storm, said Claire Bosanko of Queensland's Counter-Disaster and Rescue Services. Most communities in the cyclone-prone region have cyclone shelters and evacuation centers.

The cyclone was downgraded Wednesday from the maximum category 5 storm to category 4.

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Bureau of Meteorology: http://www.bom.gov.au