UPDATE 9.20pm The tiny community of Pardoo is set to feel the full force of Severe Tropical Cyclone Rusty after a late change in course.
The eye of the storm started to cross the coast this afternoon, more than 30 hours after the north-west coastline was placed on red alert and residents told to take shelter and stay inside.
At about 5pm, the cyclone crossed the coast at Pardoo and the Bureau says it will gradually weaken as it heads inland. The massive system has tracked east away from Port Hedland.
By 8pm Rusty was estimated to be inland 125km east of Port Hedland, 110km north of Marble Bar and moving south south-east at 9km/h.
The cyclone has been downgraded from a category four to a category three system, with winds weakening to 205km/h.
Wind gusts of more than 165km/h are expected near the cyclone's centre this evening and destructive winds of more than 125km/h are expected to extend inland tonight reaching Marble Bar early tomorrow.
Residents, who had already been under red alert lockdown for more than 24 hours, have been told they may have to stay sheltered until at least Friday, with floods and winds set to leave a trail of destruction across the Pilbara.
The Facebook page of Pardoo Station said there had been some slight damage, but they were braced for more.
“We are all holed up in the Homestead where the walls are so thick that if you closed the curtains you wouldn't even know it was going on!” said a post.
“Have lost the roof to our car port and water damage to another building so far, hoping it doesn't reach a Cat 5!“
Pardoo Roadhouse manager Ian Badger sent his staff to Broome earlier this week while staying to face the storm - and the damage - alone.
“I was half confident yesterday we would miss the main centre of it,” Mr Badger said.
“I have got trees going over, so there is going to be a fair bit of damage.
“So we will just keep an eye on everything, and sit it out.
“I can’t really do too much - it is pretty much horizontal rain.”
Neil Bennett from the Bureau of Meteorology said fierce gales and torrential rain were likely to last for hours.
North West residents have been told to prepare for a prolonged battering.
Residents already under red alert lockdown for more than 24 hours have been told they may have to stay sheltered until at least Friday, with floods and winds set to leave a trail of destruction across the Pilbara.
Destructive winds with gusts in excess of 125km/h are occuring along the coast in the vicinity of De Grey and Pardoo, and could reach Marble Bar overnight.
Figures from NASA satellites tracking the monster storm are frightening - their Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument shows thunderstorms with cloud top temperatures colder than minus 52 degrees surrounding the eye of the storm.
The TRMM satellite, which flew directly over Rusty on Tuesday, recorded rainfall of over 138mm per hour near Rusty's western eye wall.
And a 3-D image of Rusty's rainfall and cloud heights created at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland showed the tops of some of the towering thunderstorms in the cyclone reaching heights of over 12km.
Port Hedland deputy mayor George Daccache says the winds and rain are relentless.
“It is pretty windy, and it has been relentless for the past two or three days. I don't see us having any sunshine for a while,” Mr Daccache said.
“We are riding out the storm the best we can but we have been on alert since last Friday and looks like we will be on red for another day or so.
“The storm surge is our biggest worry. We are going to cop our fair share. We are doing the best to make sure the town is secure.”
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.
Gales are occuring on the coast between Sandfire Roadhouse and Whim Creek and will extend inland towards Marble Bar during today, and may reach Nullagine overnight.
Very destructive winds with gusts in excess of 165km/h are likely in coastal parts between Port Hedland and Wallal during the day as Severe Tropical Cyclone Rusty approaches the coast.
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.