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Alert upgraded as Pilbara cyclone intensifies
Cyclone Rusty's path. Picture: Bureau of Meteorology

Update, 9.15pm: Public buildings are boarded up, flights cancelled and people have been 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 overnight and was forecast to be a category four by tomorrow.

A red alert has been issued for areas between Pardoo and Whim Creek, including Port Hedland.

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People in the Pilbara and the Kimberley were warned to expect major flooding, winds of up to 200km/h and huge tides.

There are already reports of damage this morning, with the Cooke Point Recreation Club losing part of its roof. Several trees have been uprooted and fences have collapsed in coastal areas.

Horizon Power said about 2000 customers were currently without electricity in South Hedland.

A utility spokeswoman said the power was interrupted about 8.15am today due to high winds.

“Horizon Power has inspected the infrastructure and identified a fallen power line as the cause of the unplanned power interruption,” she said. “Horizon Power is unable to undertake restoration work at present, as wind speeds in Port and South Hedland have already exceeded the safe operational limits which allow crews to respond to faults.”

Horizon said line crews were on standby and would carry out restoration as soon as it was safe to do so.

The Weather Bureau expects the cyclone to make landfall tomorrow afternoon.

At 8pm the cyclone was estimated to be 125km north-northeast of Port Hedland and 285km northeast of Karratha. The Bureau says the cyclone was near stationary but was expected to resume its southerly track towards the Pilbara early tomorrow.

In Port Hedland, locals were sandbagging shopfronts and clearing supermarket shelves of essentials. Early this morning the Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued a warning to people in low-lying areas ahead of a forecast storm surge and about 200 people have been evacuated by police and emergency services.

Pilbara residents forced to evacuate because of Tropical Cyclone Rusty today have been faced with the prospect of leaving their pets behind because evacuation centres do not allow animals.

A Port Hedland resident of 40 years, Mr Daccache has seen his fair share of wet season wild weather, but expects this cyclone will be one of the worst the town has ever seen.

“This one’s a bit of a beauty,” Mr Daccache said.

With residents heeding warnings to stay safe, the streets are empty, as are supermarket shelves after a rush to prepare for Rusty’s arrival.

For now, it’s lingering off the coast.

“It’s going to be a pain waiting for two to three days for this to come and go,” Mr Daccache said.

“We’ve just to hang in there hour by hour, and batten down the hatches.”

Mr Daccache said he was most concerned about an expected storm tide, which threatens to inundate the lower-lying western part of the town.

Pardoo Station recorded 200mm of rain today and Warrawagine 64mm, with the equivalent of Perth’s annual rainfall tipped to fall on the Pilbara over the next three days.

“We are talking Noah’s Ark here, we really are talking phenomenal amounts of rainfall,” bureau forecaster Andrew Burton 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 to what we’ll see over the next couple days.”

Two emergency welfares centres, at Wanangkura Recreation Centre in South Hedland and Andrew McLaughlin Community Centre in Port Hedland, have been set up by the Department for Child Protection but neither accommodates animals.

The only exception is assistance dogs.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services spokesman Allen Gale said there were hygiene issues associated with mixing pets and people and problems could be caused by a dog being in a room with a hundred people it did not know.

“It’s one thing for authorities to be able to look after a group of people but it’s another thing to be looking after pets as well,” he said.

Mr Gale urged people not to put their lives at risk by staying behind to care for their pets but instead secure their pets before they left, preferably indoors.

An RSPCA spokesman said if people were forced to leave their pets behind in a cyclone it was important to leave them in a secure place with plenty of food and water.

The iron ore centre's main thoroughfare, Wedge Street, looked like a ghost town even before the yellow alert was declared.

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 use a refuge at South Hedland's Wanangkura Stadium.

All commercial flights in and out of Port Hedland were cancelled when the airport shut at 9pm.

Main Roads advises that the following main roads are closed: Great Northern Highway between the Auski Roadhouse and Port Hedland and between Port Hedland and Broome; North West Coastal Highway between Roebourne and Great Northern Highway; Marble Bar Road between Marble Bat and Great Northern Highway; and Ripon Hills Road.

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.

Port Hedland man Moumen Masri inspects battered trees on Wedge Street this morning. Picture: Alex Massey/North West Telegraph.

The bureau said Rusty's slow movement would significantly strengthen the system. There were also concerns about a monster 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 and overnight winds of up to 119km/h were recorded across Port and South Hedland.

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.

The cyclone has also forced the postponement of some mobile polling in. Mobile polling along the Kimberley’s Gibb River Road was cancelled today due to wet and rough conditions. The WA Electoral Commission says more than 60 remote communities or minesites were yet to be visited.

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 today.

Residents face a massive clean-up after the system dumped 800mm of rain on the islands between 11am Friday and 11am yesterday - the equivalent of Perth's average annual rainfall.

This morning the Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued an emergency relocation for residents in Port Hedland's east and west.

Port Hedland police Sergeant Jason Gentili said crews were evacuating residents in the port town’s West End precinct and the suburbs of Cooke Point and Pretty Pool. The Aboriginal communities of One Mile and Three Mile were also being evacuated.

“I’ve got 80 people at the moment but we could have to relocate up to 200,” Sgt Gentili said. “We’re asking they all go to the shelters either in Port or South or move to friends or relative’s homes.”

The alert is current for people between Sharman Mews, Pennings Court and Styles Road.
McGregor Street and Athol Street to the east, the majority of Tkalkaboorda to the east, between Wilson Street and Anderson Street from McGregor Street to The Esplanade to the west.

"Rapid and powerful flooding is very likely," DFES warned. "Severe Tropical Cyclone Rusty's intensity, size and slow movement is likely to lead to a very dangerous storm tide as the cyclone centre nears the coast."

The Department of Education advises that the following public schools are closed until further notice:
Hedland Senior High School, Port Hedland Primary School, Port Hedland School of the Air, Cassia Primary School, Cassia Education Support Centre, Baler Primary School, South Hedland Primary School, Pilbara Behaviour Centre, Yandeyarra Remote Community School, Marble Bar Primary School and Nullagine Primary School.

The Department for Child Protection advises that the Andrew McLaughlin Community Centre in Keesing Street in Port Hedland and the Wanangkura Recreation Centre in Hamilton Road South Hedland are offering safe shelter for people who may be forced to leave their homes.

Barrow Island braces for Rusty. Picture: Supplied