UPDATE 11.20pm Public buildings were boarded up, flights cancelled and people evacuated from outstations as the North West braces for severe tropical cyclone Rusty.
The “slow-moving and erratic” cyclone, which has been gathering power off the coast, was upgraded to a category three system last night and was forecast to be a category four by tomorrow.
People in the Pilbara and the Kimberley were warned to expect major flooding, winds of up to 200km/h and huge tides.
The Weather Bureau was unable to say precisely when or where the cyclone would make landfall.
But beneath a darkening sky in Port Hedland, locals were sandbagging shopfronts and clearing supermarket shelves of essentials.
The iron ore centre’s main thoroughfare, Wedge Street, looked like a ghost town even before a yellow alert was declared at 6pm.
Up to 30 residents at Hedland’s makeshift Aboriginal bush community of Two Mile were ordered to seek shelter.
Support agency Bloodwood Tree Association said they could most of the people would stay with relatives or use a refuge at South Hedland’s Wanangkura Stadium.
“A lot of these people don’t have much of a choice,” Bloodwood chief executive Bob Neville said. “We went around and spoke to every single one of them to make sure they’ve got somewhere safe to go.”
All commercial flights in and out of Port Hedland were cancelled when the airport shut at from 9pm.
Virgin and Qantas were monitoring their flights in and out of Karratha and Broome.
Pardoo remains Rusty’s most likely epicentre but some model forecasts show the system stalling just before crossing the coast, tracking briefly west towards Port Hedland and moving inland late tomorrow or Thursday.
The bureau said Rusty’s slow movement would significantly strengthen the system. increasing the duration of “gale, storm or hurricane force” winds. There were also concerns about of a coastal crossing coinciding with high tide increases, resulting in a mammoth storm tide.
Kimberley emergency services boss Matt Reimer said Rusty was “chillingly similar” to the path tropical cyclone Rosita took when it hit Broome in 2000.
So far the system has hit Broome with 125mm of rain in two days.
Mr Reimer said Broome was “not out of woods” and the overnight direction of Rusty would be crucial in trying to determine where it may be heading.
The cyclone and associated low pressure system had dumped about 125mm of rain in Broome in just over two days.
The Pilbara’s Karijini and Millstream national parks are now closed to the public.
Most of the region’s major mining companies flew workers out yesterday and Port Hedland, Dampier and Cape Lambert ports were set to close by this morning.
A second potential cyclone was south-east of the Cocos Islands last night. There was a strong possibility the storm would develop into a tropical cyclone, to be named Sandra, by 2pm on Tuesday.
It was only expected to remain at cyclone intensity for 12-18 hours before dying back down to a tropical low.
Residents face a massive clean-up after the system dumped 800mm of rain on the islands between 11am Friday and 11am Monday — the equivalent of Perth’s average annual rainfall.