Tropical Cyclone Ilsa has crossed Western Australia’s northwest coast with potentially record-breaking winds, battering trapped communities as it moves inland.
The cyclone reached the coast around midnight on Thursday as a Category Five system between De Gray and Pardoo, bringing winds of 133 mph.
Record-breaking gusts of nearly 300 km/h were recorded on Bedout Island, off the east coast of Pilbara as the cyclone made landfall.
On Friday morning, it was classified as a Category Three system and was expected to maintain cyclone intensity into the night as it moved hundreds of miles inland toward Telfer and Kunawarritji.
The cyclone is expected to weaken Friday night as it moves into southern parts of the Northern Territory.
In the regional center of Port Hedland, west of the storm’s center, locals sheltered indoors under a red alert until the threat passed.
The Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern, 93 miles (150 km) north of Port Hedland, was in the cyclone’s direct line of fire and sustained severe damage.
“This has been a stressful and challenging time for our Pardoo Roadhouse team,” the owners wrote on Facebook Friday morning.
“Initial reports say the roadhouse has sustained extensive damage, although it is too early to say the full extent.
“Thanks again everyone, your support has really done us good.”
Residents facing Cyclone Ilsa’s onslaught have been told to shelter in evacuation centers (Port Headland evacuation center pictured)
Todd Smith of the Bureau of Meteorology said wind gusts in excess of 155 mph would damage the landscape and non-compliant buildings.
“That will cause a lot of damage to trees and vegetation, if there were any caravans around they would be destroyed,” he told news.com.au.
“Houses that aren’t built to code are going to take a lot of damage from that kind of wind force.”
Mayor Peter Carter said the city of about 16,000 was still on lockdown and he had not been able to assess the damage, but that the winds “sounded like a freight train” as the cyclone passed overnight.
“I think we were very, very lucky. At the last point, the cyclone moved further north away from us,” he told ABC TV.
“So I think we’ve been spared in our community what could have been really bad.”
Iron ore port and rail operations in Australia’s busiest and largest port were suspended and ships turned away in preparation for the cyclone’s approach.
The cyclone reached the coast about midnight Thursday as a Category Five system between De Gray and Pardoo, with winds of 133 mph (213 km/h).
Three different warnings – red, yellow and blue – have been issued for the affected areas, with red indicating a threat to lives and homes and requiring residents to act immediately
Dean Narramore of the Bureau of Meteorology said Cyclone Ilsa produced sustained offshore gusts of up to 289 km/h on Bedout Island before readings stopped working.
He said the cyclone may have set a new record for sustained wind speeds in Australia and the danger is not over for remote communities in outback Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
“It will likely lead to flash and river flooding and many of the dirt roads in this part of the world will become unusable and could temporarily isolate communities and property owners and residents,” Narramore said.
The agency said very destructive winds with gusts of up to 140 mph (220 km/h) hit near the center of the cyclone east of Marble Bar on Friday morning.
Heavy and intense rainfall was expected to continue in the cyclone’s path, including falling of up to 200 mm during the day.
Warrawagine cattle station manager Belinda Lethbridge said the situation was worrying but her team had prepared as much as possible and it was now a matter of luck.
She said her family and staff would sit out the cyclone together, expecting to be inundated by swollen rivers after it passed.
On Friday morning, Cyclone Ilsa was classified as a Category Three system and cyclone intensity was expected to continue into the night
Supermarkets in the Pilbara are stripped of fresh food as residents prepare for Tropical Cyclone Ilsa to make landfall (pictured, a meat corridor in eastern WA)
Darren Klemm, commissioner of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, said the weather system would have a significant impact on communities in the alert area.
“All the preparatory work that has gone into those remote Aboriginal communities, the mining sites and the town and pastoral stations is critical to making sure people stay safe,” he said.
Evacuation centers were opened in South Hedland, Newman, Marble Bar and Nullagine.
Workers and tourists from the Eighty Mile Beach trailer park and nearby ranches were evacuated, along with non-critical workers from mine sites across the region.
Production at the Telfer mine in Newcrest slowed as the site was evacuated for all but a skeleton crew, with the cyclone expected to move inland through the area on Friday.
Additional aid workers, essential supplies and aircraft have been sent to the area.