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Cyclone makes landfall in Australia

  • NEW: Ului downgraded to a Category 1, expected to weaken further as it moves inland
  • Tropical Cyclone Ului crossed coast near Airlie Beach shortly before 2 a.m.
  • Eight areas along Australia's eastern coast are under disaster declaration

(CNN) -- A Category 3 cyclone made landfall in Australia early Sunday before weakening as it moved inland.

East coast residents were urged to seek shelter after Ului crossed the coast near Airlie Beach, on the northeast coast, around 1:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m. ET Saturday), the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology reported.

As of 8 a.m. Sunday (6 p.m. ET Saturday), the eye of the cyclone was about 60 km (37 miles) west of the Queensland city of Collinsville and moving west southwest at 26 km per hour (16 miles per hour). It had been downgraded to a Category 1 and was expected to weaken further as it continued inland, according to the bureau.

Heavy rainfall and flooding were forecast to continue in adjacent inland areas between Ayr, Bowen and Saint Lawrence, the bureau said, but heavy winds are no longer expected.

On Saturday, the Australian government declared a disaster situation for eight areas along the east coast: Townsville, Burdekin, Whitsunday, Charters Towers, Mackay, Isaac, Rockhampton and Central Highlands.

The declaration gives emergency officials authority to conduct mandatory evacuations, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said in a statement.

The cyclone's destructive wind gusts of up to 205 km/hr whipped the coastal and island areas of Ayr and Seaforth earlier, while tides between Mowen and Mackay were at their highest this year, the bureau said.

Residents were advised to stay inside.