Tropical Cyclone Rusty is hovering menacingly off the Pilbara coast, threatening to bring a devastating storm surge of more than 4m and winds of more than 230km/h when it eventually crosses the coast.
At 5am the Weather Bureau said Rusty, which has been upgraded to a category four system. It was 130km north northeast of Port Hedland and 290km east northeast of Karratha and was "barely moving".
Rusty’s massive size and slow movement is set to unleash rain causing major flooding in the De Grey catchment and significant flooding in the Fortescue catchment as well as in Pilbara coastal streams.
The deputy mayor of Port Hedland shire, George Daccache, a resident of 40 years, expects the cyclone to be one of the worst the town has seen.
“This one's a bit of a beauty,” Mr Daccache said. “It's going to be a pain waiting for two to three days for this to come and go."
Port Hedland councillor Bill Dziombak says there's been persistent rain in the area, and he expects it will become more intense.
“This is a very long, drawn-out slow nightmare,” Mr Dziombak said.
“Over the last 48 hours we've had gradually increasing gales, gusty winds and heavy, heavy rain.”
The rain had softened vegetation, raising fears of falling trees and damage to infrastructure, Mr Dziombak said.
Gales are occuring on the coast between Sandfire Roadhouse and Whim Creek and may extend west to Karratha and inland towards Marble Bar during today.
As residents between Pardoo and Whim Creek were put on red alert yesterday, the Weather Bureau warned that “phenomenal” amounts of rain and flooding could create chaos.
Rusty was forecast to cross the coast this afternoon or this evening.
As more than 300 Port Hedland residents were evacuated amid 150km/h winds, the State Government’s emergency co- ordination group met in Perth yesterday to plan the response to the cyclone.
Winds are expected to exceed 165km/h today, but the threat of dangerous storm surges and flooding are causing the most concern.Forecaster Andrew Burton said the equivalent of Perth’s annual rainfall could fall on the Pilbara over the next three days.
“We are talking Noah’s Ark here. We really are talking about phenomenal amounts of rainfall,” he said.
“We are seeing totals already up around the 100-150mm per day up the coast. I think that’s going to pale into insignificance compared with what we’ll see over the next couple of days.”
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services warned there was a possible threat to lives and homes in Marble Bar, Nullagine and De Grey Station because of rising rivers and streams.
Residents near the Yule and Turner river catchments near Port Hedland were also preparing for flooding.
The bureau’s Neil Bennett said a 3.5m to 4m storm surge was predicted, which could increase to 10m if Rusty crossed at high tide at midday.
“But it’s likely to cross later in the day, so it’s going to be bad but not the worst it could be,” he said.
“This is a nasty system.
“It’s going to lead to issues with flooding, roads being cut, structural damage, power lines are likely to be down and add that to the water everywhere and that’s going to be a dangerous environment for people to be moving around in.”
Mr Daccache said a 4m surge would inundate the town’s west end. “We’ve got pumps ready to flush the water out as quickly as we can,” he said.
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