News State Western Australia Pilbara on ‘red alert’ as cyclone approaches
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Pilbara on ‘red alert’ as cyclone approaches

AAP
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· Cyclone to bring gales and storm surges

Residents are in lockdown after a red alert was issued for Port Hedland and South Hedland as a category three cyclone tracks towards Western Australia’s Pilbara coast.

Cyclone Christine is expected to bring massive storm surges of up to five metres, flooding rain and winds of up to 200 kilometres-an-hour when it makes landfall between Karratha and Port Hedland later tonight.

Australia’s biggest iron ore miners have already been forced to shutdown their operations and with a red alert now in place, residents must stay indoors and turn off gas, water and electricity.

 

Port Hedland Mayor Kelly Howlett says people must not go outside until the all clear is given.

“It means remaining indoors, and remaining indoors until the official all clear has been declared,” she said.

“That’s not the all clear when you think it might be all clear, it’s making sure it’s the official all clear because we don’t want anyone coming into contact with hazards such as fallen power lines or any hazards that might be on the road that could cause any serious harm.”

Bureau of Meteorology
Cyclone Christine bears down on the Pilbara coast. Credit: Bureau of Meteorology

Ms Howlett is bunkered down in her home and says the wind is starting to pick up.

“It’s looking very ominous, certainly it’s been very grey, we have been experiencing an increase in winds, we have been getting some strong gusts and we have been getting a little bit of rain,” she said.

“We know we are expecting more and I guess that’s what we are all bracing for and being prepared for.”

Authorities are most concerned about the massive storm surge likely along the coast.

“Our biggest concern is the water; we’ve done a lot of preparation, particularly in the Port Hedland area with regards to that flooding possibility,” the Department of Fire and Emergency Services’ Les Hayter said.

“It’s a waiting game now, we just have to see how this thing pans out.”

 

Journalist Elise Batchelor, who is in Port Hedland, says the main concern is flooding from the storm surge.

“When you have a storm surge it’s when the combination of a high tide at the same time that the cyclone crosses the coast can lead to a massive rise in the tides that have already been pushed up due to the winds,” she said.

She says the winds have picked up in Port Hedland and it has been raining for about the past 12 hours.

Ms Batchelor says many people are away for the Christmas period but those remaining have already experienced one power outage, and it is too late to move to evacuation centres.

“Now is the time to lay low, stay inside, presuming that you have taken all the precautions to prepare and be ready,” she said.

“We’ve got a lot of cyclone-rated houses though in Port Hedland which means they’ve been built with steel structures that are intended to withstand this kind of seasonal event so we hope for the safety of everyone in their homes.”

 

Glenn Connell from Pyramid Station, 100 kilometres east of Karratha, is in the path of the cyclone and has spent the past 24 hours preparing.

“I’ve been flat out yesterday tying down all sorts of stuff. On a station there’s plenty of stuff to do – more than the average house,” he said.

“I’ve been flat out tying up everything, cleaning up everything I can and filling tanks with water.”

Summer cyclones like Christine are nothing new for Mr Connell and he says he and his family are prepared to be isolated for some time.

“Plenty of food, plenty of water,” he said.

“We’re just on the other side of the George River so we actually do get cut off quite a fair bit depending on how long it flows and quite often we’re stuck in here a lot longer than other people, so that we’re pretty used to,” he said.

But he says the rain will be welcome.

“She’s pretty brown, so we’re looking forward to a bit of rain.”

 

Residents in Karratha have been stocking up on supplies at supermarkets – many appear unconcerned about Christine, however there are a number of visitors in town for the Christmas period who have not experienced a cyclone before.

The world’s biggest mining company, BHP Billiton, has now suspended its port and rail operations in Port Hedland, and extreme weather preparations are continuing across its mining operations.

Fortescue Metals has secured its port and rail infrastructure, and Rio Tinto says it has stopped loading ships at Dampier and Port Hedland.

Other ships have been sent out to sea to wait out the storm.

Woodside says its non-essential staff have left its Pluto project at the Karratha gas plant.

Authorities have issued flood warnings for the Pilbara region, as the cyclone moves inland over communities such as Newman and Paraburdoo.

Coastal communities from Pardoo to Dampier are warned of damaging waves and dangerous costal inundation on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

Emergency services have issued community alerts and local governments say cyclone preparations are in place.

A red alert is now in place for people in or near coastal areas between Pardoo and Whim Creek.

A yellow alert is current for people in or near the coastal and inland communities between Whim Creek and Mardie.

This includes Roebourne, Point Samson, Wickham, Karratha, Dampier and extending inland to Marble Bar, Tom Price and Pannawonica.

Forecaster Noel Puzey says it is hoped the storm will bring much-needed rain to dry parts of the state.

“North-western Australia, they get their rain through these sort of events really and some of the area is quite dry,” he said.

“This is the first decent rainfall event for them and we are hoping it’ll provide much-needed rain – but not too much.”