‘Very destructive’: Fresh alarm as Cyclone Ilsa strengthens further

Port Hedland prepares for Cyclone Ilsa

Pilbara towns have been evacuated and supermarket shelves emptied as Tropical Cyclone Ilsa, now expected to become a category-five storm, bears down on the Western Australian coast.

The Bureau of Meteorology upgraded the cyclone to a category-four system on Thursday morning, with gusts near the centre up to 230km/h as it tracked toward the coast 290 kilometres north of Port Hedland.

Just hours later, it said llsa was forecast to be even stronger than initially predicted, and was likely to “reach category five prior to crossing the coast … later tonight or early on Friday morning”.

“Severe Tropical Cyclone Ilsa is a category four system and is moving south. Ilsa is expected to turn to the south-east this afternoon and develop further, and is now forecast to reach category five intensity as it move towards the east Pilbara coast,” the BOM said in a warning.

If that happens, Ilsa will be the first category five cyclone to make landfall in Australia since 2015 – when Cyclone Marcia TC caused more than $500 in damage along Queensland’s Capricornia Coast.

Forecaster Weatherzone said a wind gust of 235km/h recorded at 7am Thursday (local time) at Rowley Shoals – a trio of tiny coral atolls 300 kilometres west of Broome – was the strongest wind gust recorded anywhere in Australia since Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

As Ilsa intensifies, gusts are forecast to reach up to 285km/h, with up to 300 millimetres of rain and abnormally high tides in the stretch of coast from Port Hedland to Broome.

“In some locations, the tide may be close to or exceed the highest astronomical tide of the year,” the BOM said.

Port Hedland mayor Peter Carter said the system was likely to cross the coast closer to the mining town of about 16,000 than initially forecast.

“What’s happening with this cyclone is very unusual and a lot of people are getting very worried because it’s getting closer and closer to Port Hedland,” he said.

He said an eerie quiet had descended in town as residents prepared for the impact of the cyclone.

“It’s very subdued. There’s not a lot of wind [yet] and there’s light drizzle and light cloud,” he said.

“At the moment it’s very quiet but this thing is supposed to hit us in 14 hours [and] that could change again.

“The longer it stays out in the ocean, the bigger it’s going to get [and] the more powerful it’s going to get.”

Watch the BOM's latest update

Source: Bureau of Meteorology

Ilsa is expected to cross the WA coast near Pardoo Roadhouse, 150 kilometres north-east of Port Hedland. Manager Will Batth will stay at the remote service station with a colleague while the cyclone passes.

“We haven’t had any as strong as this in many years. This is a big one,” he said.

“[But] there’s no point in worrying. I can’t stop it.”

Mr Batth said a few cars were still travelling on the North West Coastal Highway but the roadhouse had closed and staff had evacuated to Port Hedland.

WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued a yellow alert for Ilsa on Thursday morning.

“There is a possible threat to lives and homes as a cyclone is approaching the area,” it said.

“You need to take action and get ready to shelter from a cyclone.”

Mr Carter urged people to watch out for household objects turning into flying debris.

“All our residents are basically putting away their barbecues and outdoor furniture,” he said.

He added loose objects travelling at high speeds had the potential to become “missiles in the air.”

Mr Carter said evacuation centres had been set up for people who did not feel safe in their homes in Port Hedland.

“Port Hedland is a very transient town. We have people from overseas who don’t understand what cyclones do,” he said.

“It’s not a normal storm. These things hang around for two or three hours and have very destructive winds.”

Communities from Bidyadanga to Whim Creek, including Port Hedland and inland to Marble Bar, Nullagine and Telfer have been urged to move their vehicles under cover and keep their emergency kits on hand.

Workers and tourists at Eighty Mile Beach caravan park and nearby Wallal Downs cattle station are being evacuated, along with non-critical workers at Newcrest’s Telfer mine and BHP’s sites across the region.

Extra emergency workers, essential supplies and aircraft have been sent to the area as authorities warn the North West Coastal Highway could close between Port Hedland and Broome due to flooding.

Port Hedland is being cleared of ships, including iron ore carriers.

Communities from Beagle Bay to Broome have been given the all-clear, but have been asked to watch out for residual damage, including fallen trees and power lines.

Ilsa is forecast to maintain tropical cyclone intensity into Friday as it tracks inland to Telfer and moves east.

The system is expected to weaken below tropical cyclone strength overnight on Friday before moving east into southern parts of the Northern Territory.

-with AAP

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