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Blue cyclone alert for Pilbara coast
Cyclone Narelle at 9m yesterday: Picture: Bureau of Meteorology

Update, 3.30pm: Resource companies are preparing for a major evacuation of staff from offshore and land-based operations and vessels including iron ore carriers are heading out to sea as Cyclone Narelle intensifies off the coast.

Parts of the Pilbara coast are on blue alert, including areas from Whim Creek to Mardie where gusts up to 100km/h are expected to develop.

Operations at iron ore ports at Cape Lambert and Dampier are being monitored and could close and Apache has shut the Stag and Van Gogh oil fields. Chevron is evacuating workers from Barrow Island.

An Apache spokesman said non-essential staff from offshore operations, including Varanus Island were being evacuated.

“The Stag and Van Gogh oil fields are moving to shut-in, while production is continuing from the Varanus Island and Devil Creek gas hubs,” the spokesman said.

“Apache will continue to closely monitor all facilities during the passage of the cyclone.”

A spokesman for Chevron said they had begun tie-down activities and were taking all precautions.

“Personnel not required to close down or re-establish the site prior and following the cyclone are being demobilised. Our number one priority is the health and safety of our people,” he said.

The Northwest Cape is most at risk of a severe impact, with very destructive winds, heavy rain and a dangerous storm tide forecast for late Saturday on Sunday.

Dampier Port Authority spokesman Paul Toussaint-Jackson said about 40 vessels, including iron ore ships, will have motored out to the open ocean by the end of today.

A decision hasn’t yet been made to close the harbor, he said.

Airlines such as Cobham are scheduling a host of flights to evacuate workers from North West drilling platforms and mining sites.

Cobham has scheduled eight flights between Barrow Island and Perth today and Qantas is also operating ten flights from Karratha to Perth.

The airline told The West Australian that it is monitoring the situation and will convene a conference tomorrow morning to ascertain if extra flights are needed.

The blue alert, issued last night, is for coastal and island communities including Wickham, Roebourne, Point Sampson, Karratha and Dampier.

Although there is no immediate danger, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services says people need to start preparing for dangerous weather and keep up to date.

A cyclone warning alert has been issued for Whim Creek to Coral Bay and midwest Gascoyne regions including Karratha, Dampier, Onslow and Exmouth where people are being encouraged to gather emergency kits and review their cyclone plan.

People in coastal areas from Coral Bay to Cape Cuvier in the midwest Gascoyne region have been issued a 'watch' alert and are being encouraged to stay up to date with the cyclone's movements.

The Bureau of Meteorology said that at about 3pm the cyclone was estimated to be 740km north of Exmouth and 610km north, north-west or Karratha. The cyclone is moving south, south-west at 19km/h.

Narelle moved south south-west overnight and is expected to slowly develop as it continues towards the Northwest Cape.

Gales with gusts to 100km/h are expected to develop on the coast between Whim Creek and Onslow including the Karratha area later tomorrow, then extend west to Exmouth and Ningaloo overnight Friday and Saturday morning.

The winds are likely to increase further during Saturday around the west Pilbara coast with gusts of more than 130km/h forecast overnight on Saturday.

The Bureau has warned wind gusts could reach 250km/h near the centre of the cyclone.

Thunderstorm activity will increase on the Pilbara coast tomorrow with isolated heavy rainfall possible.

DFES says people should get ready for dangerous weather by preparing their home and securing or removing loose material.