Northern Territory residents have been warned that authorities cannot guarantee their safety as Tropical Cyclone Lam continues to intensify as it travels west.
Cyclone Lam was elevated to a category three storm on Wednesday afternoon, as it swept through Nhulunbuy, in northeast Arnhem Land, 1000km from Darwin.
Remote communities in the north-east Top End are battening down or evacuating, as they prepare for the force of a category three cyclone powerful enough to cause roof and structural damage to homes.
Tropical Cyclone Lam has now intensified with wind gusts of 165km/h, as it hovers halfway between Nhulunbuy and Elcho Island.
The storm remains about 130km west north west of Nhulunbuy, passing over Cape Wessel, and the town is expecting very destructive winds of over 170km/h to begin within the next 24 hours.
Northern Territory police are urging residents to have their emergency plan in place in preparation for the onset.
Residents of Nhulunbuy, Elcho Island and Gapuwiyak have been advised to immediately find shelter.
Coastal residents between Millingimbi and Nhulunbuy have been warned a storm tide will cause flooding.
Residents on Elcho Island were sheltering in a school hall and mechanical workshop in Galiwin’ku, in the south of the island, while northern communities such as Gawa had been evacuated.
Coastal communities ‘at risk’
The NT News reporter Zachary Hope was on the ground in Nhulunbuy on Wednesday afternoon, and spoke to The New Daily from the local Walkabout Lodge pub, where he took shelter with locals and tourists.
Mr Hope tells The New Daily he noticed the wind has intensified since Wednesday morning, with the town completely shut-down, including local schools.
“Everyone seems pretty chilled (at the moment), the forecast tracking maps from the bureau has it moving west, so people have taken a bit of relief in that,” Mr Hope says.
However he says the greatest challenge during the cyclone will be for the coastal Indigenous communities.
“A lot of those people live in houses that are very close to the ocean, and they are quite low – a strong storm surge could put those people at risk,” Mr Hope says.
Public shelters have opened at Gove District Hospital for people in the Nhulunbuy region, as well as Elcho Island to Cape Shield.
Lots of people have already evacuated their homes after a police door-knock Wednesday morning, Mr Hope says.
— Zachary Hope (@Zhope10) February 18, 2015
Townspeople prepare for cyclone
On Wednesday, streets were lined with boats, trucks and trampolines anchored by rope to lampposts.
Robert Clements opted to evacuate his home and travel 20km to Nhulunbuy from the indigenous community of Yirrkala, with his partner and their three-month-old baby.
“We’ve been advised that all the homes in Yirrkala are built to cope with cyclones, but with a newborn I just felt more comfortable relocating to a brick home in the township,” Mr Clements said.
But, the storm is good news for at least some residents.
Surfers are hoping the big swell along the coastline of the Gove Peninsula will keep away the saltwater crocodiles that usually ensure the area is off-limits.
“Usually we don’t get in the water here, but when it’s like this you’ve got to make the most of it,” local surfer Kevin Vernacombe said.
What’s yet to come
Bureau of Meteorology NT director Todd Smith said damaging winds would be expected to continue through Thursday, with the storm predicted to become a category four.
“These winds will continue to increase possibly reaching destructive wind gusts of above 170km an hour as early as tomorrow evening along the north-east of the Gove Peninsula,” he said.
“Long term it’s uncertain if that track will move southwards and stay over water or whether it will make landfall over the north eastern Top End.”
NT residents have been posting pictures on social media of long fuel queues and dark storm clouds.
— abcnewsNT (@abcnewsNT) February 18, 2015