UPDATE 11pm: Cyclone Christine, which is brewing off the Pilbara coast, is intensifying into a powerful system that will bring 200km/h winds, heavy rain and flooding when it hits land between Whim Creek and Karratha during the next two hours.
Communities between Pardoo and Mardie have now been placed on red alert. This includes people in or near coastal areas between Pardoo and Mardie including Port Hedland, South Hedland, Whim Creek, Roebourne, Point Samson, Wickham, Karratha and Dampier and also extending inland to Tom Price and Paraburdoo.
At 11.00pm the cyclone was estimated to be 135km west south-west of Port Hedland and 55km east of Karratha and moving south south-west at 18km/h towards the Pilbara coast.
The category 3 system is moving away from Port Hedland and winds there are slowly easing. In the Karratha area winds are intensifying as Christine comes closer.
Christine is expected to continue on a south southwest track and the centre will cross the coast between Whim Creek and Karratha during the next two hours.
A yellow alert remains in place for people in inland areas including Marble Bar and Pannawonica.
A blue alert remains for people in or near coastal areas between Wallal and Pardoo, and between Mardie and Onslow, and the inland area from Marble Bar to Newman and between the Collier Ranges and Three Rivers including Kumarina and east to Granite Peak.
A cyclone watch is current for areas extending further inland to the eastern Gascoyne and northern Goldfields including Wiluna and Carnegie.
People between Bidyadanga and Wallal are advised that the threat of strong winds has passed.
Gales with gusts to 120km/h are occurring between Wallal and Roebourne. Gales should extend west to Karratha and Dampier by this evening and then to the inland Pilbara overnight.
Very destructive winds with gusts in excess of 200km/h are likely near the centre as the cyclone crosses the coast, while destructive winds with gusts in excess of 130km/h are expected to extend inland tonight as the cyclone moves south, the bureau says.
Surfers took a rare opportunity to ride the Sam's Island (Tidepole Island) break off the Dampier foreshore today as the cyclone approached.
Forecaster Neil Bennett said the major concern with Cyclone Christine was that it was expected to make landfall shortly after 9pm high tide in the Port Hedland and Karratha area.
“It’s coming in very close to the high tide and it doesn’t need to be too much away from high tide to have an real impact with coastal or storm surge,” he said.
“This is the biggest issue we’re facing as well as the strong winds - this is a powerful system - and the rains coming along with it as well.
“So all three factors that normally make a cyclone very dangerous are all coming together, and the storm surge in particular is of quite significant concern.”
“It’s going to be very difficult for us to pinpoint precisely where the system is going to make landfall but we think somewhere between Port Hedland and Karratha, more likely to be closer to Port Hedland.
"It’s going to be increasing in the course of this afternoon and evening so even though people are going to be away from the actual centre, they are going to feel the impacts of this,” he said.
Mr Bennett said the eye of the storm is 80-90km wide, but the damaging power of the storm will come from the area of the gales, which is covering a 300km radius from the cyclone’s eye.
Cyclone Christine is expected to remain a severe tropical cyclone after it crosses land tomorrow and even into Wednesday.
“This particular cyclone looks like it’s going to take some time to downgrade itself from tropical cyclone status. We could even see it on the weather charts in two days time as far down as the South Australian border. So this is going to have an impact on much of WA’s weather over the next couple of days,” Mr Bennett said.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services assistant commissioner Darren Klemm said for those people in red alert areas, the time for preparation and being outside was over and it was crucial they stayed inside and away from windows and doors.
Mr Klemm said as soon as the sun rose tomorrow, the authorities would go out to assess the damage.
“We’ve mobilised teams to rapid damage assessment post the cyclone. Right now we feel that DFES is very well prepared to manage the outcome of this cyclone.
"We will wait for the passage to occur, then at first light tomorrow we will be looking to get those urban search and rescue teams out and about, using aircraft to assess the damage,” he said.
The Department for Child Protection and Family Support has set up a relocation point at the JD Hardie Centre on Cottier Drive in South Hedland. Be aware that only essential items can be taken into welfare centres alcohol and pets, except guide and assistance dogs, are prohibited.
Other relocation points had been set up at Karratha Leisureplex at Karratha, Civic Centre at Marble Bar, high school gym at Tom Price, and Ashburton Hall at Paraburdoo.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services public information officer Les Hayter said he did not think Christine would be as bad as predicted but every scenario had been planned for.
State Emergency Services volunteers were conducting doorknocks in low-lying areas of Port Hedland and Karratha yesterday to warn those who may have to be evacuated.
Mr Hayter said those areas were susceptible to storm surges. Cyclones had unique characteristics and could throw up "curve balls" outside their predicted plots and intensities.
Di Wright watched the winds pick up and the rain lash down as the cyclone approached from her home in Port Hedland this afternoon.
“It’s actually really, really windy. The house is actually moving. It’s got worse over the last five hours. The road is starting to flood. You can see the rain going down the road in sheets,” she said.
“The soccer oval is all flooded. You can’t see much of the grass. It’s just sheets of rain. It’s full on.”
Ms Wright said the power has gone earlier today but was back on again this afternoon.
She said she had been concerned to see people walking down the street in Port Hedland hours after the red alert had been issued.
“They must be mad,” she said.
BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group have suspended their port operations in the region.
BHP said “tie-down” activities at Port Hedland, Australia’s largest iron ore export port, have been completed.
“Extreme weather preparations continue across our mining operations in line with alerts issued by Department of Fire and Emergency Services,” BHP said in a statement.
“Any production impacts will be in our next operational report.”
The highest priority is to ensure the safety of employees, BHP said.
Rio Tinto said ship loading and rail operations have been suspended, with all staff at the port sent off site for their safety.
The company’s inland mine operations continue as normal.
Fortescue Metals Group said its Port Hedland operations and rail operations had been secured, in line with the company’s cyclone readiness procedures.
“Conditions are being closely monitored and plans will be updated accordingly,” the company said.
Horizon Power says 176 customers are without power in South Hedland and supply will remain out until the cyclone passes.
Water Corp advises the Yule Borefield, which supplies Port Hedland, is likely to be significantly impacted by the cyclone.
Brian and Yuwadee Carlyon were in the midst of preparing for cyclone Christine as it moved towards the coast.
The Millars Well couple said they had stocked up on water and food supplies and were monitoring emergency warnings.
They said they had also prepared their home by tying down their boat, securing windows and picking up any loose items around their property.
"At the moment it's quite pleasant but we've got that eerie feeling like something is going to happen," Mr Carlyon said. "At this stage, we're a bit worried but at least we're well prepared for it."
The Department of Parks and Wildlife advises that Karijini National Park in the Shire of Ashburton will be closed until the cyclone passes.
Road closures in the area include Great Northern Highway from Auski Roadhouse to Port Hedland, North Coastal Highway from Roebourne to Port Hedland, Marble Bar Road from Marble Bar to Port Hedland and the Gibb River Road from Lennard River to Wyndham.
Travellers should avoid all non-critical travel until the cyclone passes.
People near the Fortescue River catchment should prepare for possible flooding today and tomorrow. Rainfall of up to 250ml are expected in the River catchment.