Almost half of the small Western Australian town of Kalbarri has suffered damage after “absolutely terrifying” tropical cyclone Seroja wreaked havoc on Sunday night.
“I’ve never experienced anything in my life like we experienced last night,” resident and caravan park manager Debbie Major told ABC television on Monday.
“It’s only a small town … half of it has been flattened.”
Seroja, which tore across WA’s mid-west coast overnight on Sunday, left a trail of destruction, tearing roofs off houses, ripping apart Carnavon’s historic jetty in its path.
Reports of property damage and power outages in Kalbarri and Geraldton began to emerge as residents took shelter by candlelight and rode out the worst of the storm.
Fallen trees, damaged homes and wrecked fences could be spotted amid the howling wind and rain, footage on social media showed.
Kalbarri resident Ella Curic told ABC Radio the town had been “flattened”, with the roof torn off the local pub and police station.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Monday the majority of the more than 150 calls for help so far had come from Kalbarri.
“The whole town has been impacted. Some areas had a greater concentration of damage than others,” resident and Kalbarri State Emergency Service chief Steve Cable told ABC television.
“Some of the older buildings didn’t stand up very well but even some of the modern buildings, they just couldn’t hold.
“Large trees with quite substantial limbs just snapped off like carrots.”
Mr Cable said it was a “ferocious 45 minutes” as the storm passed over the town.
“Then, because we were on red alert and it’s night time, of course, we didn’t have any idea until the winds abated. We then, of course, got out and did some night reconnaissance and the enormity of what we faced was very apparent,” he said.
“There’s a lot of widespread damage. A lot of severe damage. Quite a lot of minor damage. There’s debris all over the roads, which is our high priority for us at the moment. And also there’s a lot of power lines down.”
In one positive note, Mr Cable said he had checked with local hospitals and “no one has been injured outside of minor scrapes”.
The fast-moving storm weakened to a category two system as it pushed inland towards Dalwallinu early on Monday.
It has since been downgraded to a tropical low and continues to move south-east over the eastern Wheat Belt, southern Goldfields and South East Coastal areas, with wind gusts up to 100km/h.
The ex-cyclone is expected to continue to weaken further through Monday before moving offshore from the south coast in the afternoon.
In the meantime, emergency crews are assessing the damage in the Midwest Gascoyne, with residents told to remain inside until the all-clear is given.
Western Power said more than 31,500 customers had lost power in Kalbarri, Geraldton, Northampton, Dongara, Port Denison and Mullewa.
“Once the red alert is lifted and it’s safe, our crews will start assessing damage and responding to hazards,” Western Power’s asset operations manager Zane Christmas said.
Power crews had been preparing for Seroja since Friday but the damage caused by cyclones can make access to roads, properties and power infrastructure difficult, delaying repairs.
“Our top priority will be to make hazards safe, then commence restoration work as quickly as possible,” Mr Christmas said.
Premier Mark McGowan on Sunday described the impending cyclone “like nothing we have seen before in decades”.
A red alert remained in place on Monday for coastal areas from Carnarvon to Lancelin, extending to inland areas and towns including Coorow, Carnamah, Dalwallinu, Denham, Jurien Bay, Lancelin, Moora, Paynes Find and Wongan Hills.
Communities in the zone include Geraldton, the shires of Carnamah, Coorow, Chapman Valley, Irwin, Mingenew, Morawa, Northampton, Perenjori, Shark Bay and Three Springs.