Tropical Cyclone Ilsa intensifying rapidly as it begins final approach to WA’s Pilbara, Kimberley – ABC News

Tropical Cyclone Ilsa intensifying rapidly as it begins final approach to WA's Pilbara, Kimberley - ABC News

A Yellow Alert is expected to be issued this afternoon for communities in the path of Tropical Cyclone Ilsa, as authorities urge residents to make their final preparations.

The latest forecast tracks from the Bureau of Meteorology have the cyclone strengthening into a category three system later today before reaching a category four level later this week.

The cyclone is currently over waters north of the Kimberley, about 340 kilometres north-west of Broome, heading south-west towards Pilbara coast.

If Ilsa crosses the coast as a category four system, it would be the first cyclone of that strength to make landfall in Australia in four years.

The last severe one, Tropical Cyclone Trevor, caused significant damage across Queensland and the Northern Territory in 2019.

The system is already bringing intense rain and destructive winds of up to 140 kilometres per hour.

A cyclone watch extends from Beagle Bay to Whim Creek past Port Hedland and inland areas to Telfer.

BOM spokesman Todd Smith said the cyclone’s track was matching up with the bureau’s forecast models, with Tropical Cyclone Ilsa expected to begin turning towards the Pilbara coast tonight.

“Come tomorrow, we’re likely to see winds pick up in coastal areas and conditions continue to deteriorate,” Mr Smith said.

“A category four cyclone will produce winds in excess of 200kmh … damaging winds will extend for hundreds of kilometres.”

He said the risks would continue as the system moved inland.

“Some parts of the Pilbara might see a year’s rain in the next couple of days,” Mr Smith said.

“It’s important people pay attention to the other risks that can linger after the cyclone crosses.”

Landfall due between regional centres

After making steady progress along the Kimberley coast since the weekend, the system reached tropical cyclone strength yesterday, and is expected to make landfall in the 80 Mile Beach area over Thursday and Friday.

DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said an additional 97 emergency services personnel had been flown into the region ahead of the storm.

“This system will bring extreme conditions and I strongly urge people to finalise their preparations today,” Mr Klemm said.

He said about 60 guests remained at the 80 Mile Beach Caravan Park and were likely to evacuate when the Yellow Alert was issued.

“They need to be packing their caravans up and getting out of there today,” he said.

Nearby tourist operations at Eco Beach and Barn Hill are evacuating all guests and staff.

Of the 12 mine sites in the path of the cyclone, Mr Klemm said Newcrest (Telfer), Atlas Iron and Calidus Resources had evacuated staff, while others had enough supplies and adequate facilities to ride out the storm.

Authorities began clearing the Port of Port Hedland early Wednesday.()

In Port Hedland, authorities were due to begin clearing the town’s inner harbour — the nerve centre for WA’s iron ore exports — early this morning.

Fears of ‘pretty savage’ impact

Arnold Carter has lived in the port town for 65 years and Ilsa will be his 28th cyclone.

“If it does happen to cross the coast over Port Hedland, believe me, it’ll be pretty savage,” Mr Carter said.

He raised concerns that residents might be ill-prepared for the cyclone, given its arrival so late in the season.

Arnold Carter has lived through 27 cyclones in his 65 years in Port Hedland.()

“As soon as the red alert goes, what a rummage it’s gonna be for the local stores,” he said.

“I’ve seen it happen on many occasions and everybody gets roaring down there and … the shop is empty.”

Mr Carter’s advice was, “Do the shopping now”, and top up with water.

“If you’ve got a boat, fill it with water, if you’ve got a bath, fill it with water, because if water goes out … you’ve got real damage,” he said.

He said it was difficult to compare cyclones, but his only hope was to never get an equivalent to Cyclone Joan, which ravaged the town in 1975.

SES volunteers arrive in Port Hedland to support communities ahead of the cyclone.()

The gloomy build-up is an all-too-familiar feeling for travellers Rick Hilzinger and Deb DeRooy, Northampton locals who lost their house in Cyclone Seroja two years ago.

“We’ve gone through a cyclone in Northampton, we don’t want to do it again so we’re moving today,” Mr Hilzinger said.

“We sheltered in our shed, and the shed was rocking and rolling — the door was ripped to bits by the cyclone.

“It’s not just the winds; after the winds will come the rain, the floodways will flood, creeks will rise and if you’re not prepared well, you could get stuck.”

Rick Hilzinger and Deb De Rooy lost their home in Cyclone Seroja.()

Extra resources for Bidyadanga

Bidyadanga, 180km south of Broome, is WA’s largest remote Aboriginal community and the closest town to the expected track of the cyclone.

Food and fuel to last the community seven days has already been shipped in, with several residents requiring medical treatment evacuated to Broome.

Community chief executive Tania Baxter said residents were used to dealing with cyclones, and felt well-prepared for the days ahead.

“We’ve been doing cyclone clean-up since forever, we do it all the time; we did tree lopping earlier and at the start of the wet season,” she said.

Enough food and fuel to last a week has been shipped into Bidyadanga.()

“For us today and tomorrow, it’ll just be about any extra cyclone clean-up, basically anything around the streets that we think we can pick up and get out to the tip.”

Ms Baxter said the community was working with emergency services to understand the impact of the system as it tracks over.

“It depends on how we weather it … maintaining power supply is essential because that also maintains our water,” she said.

DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said local officers had been on the ground in Bidyadanga since the start of the week.

“They’re a pretty resilient community, they’re pretty keen to stay,” he said.

“We’ll work with them over the next 24 hours; it’s really going to depend on the track of the cyclone.”

Mr Klemm said there was scope to fly more residents to Broome, with a number of other locals already relocating to Port Hedland. 

Broome likely to be cut off

With expected heavy rain likely to close Great Northern Highway, Mr Klemm said Broome should expect to be isolated.

“Think two days is the best outcome in terms of the closure of the road. Certainly it could be longer,” he said.

“The area around Roebuck Plains is already very wet, so it won’t take much rainfall to close the highway in that area.”

He said DFES was working with the town’s supermarkets to ensure adequate stocks of supplies, and would enact re-supply plans put in place during January’s floods if the closure was extended.

Concerns have emerged for the large number of rough sleepers staying in town — including people left homeless by the catastrophic flooding in January.

The Kullari Patrol, which supports people sleeping rough and in need of assistance in town, said it was critical updates on the cyclone reached people without access to phones or other communications.

Spokesperson Cassandra Baleilau said people without access to the latest information could be left even more vulnerable.

Parts of Broome are vulnerable to flooding during storm surges and heavy rain.()

With a formal alert needing to be issued before cyclone shelters open, she said authorities should consider issuing a blue alert for Broome as early as possible.

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Inland communities begin preparations

With the system likely to bring gale force winds and heavy rain inland into the weekend, remote communities, stations and mine sites across the Pilbara are all closely watching its path.

Authorities have reached out to a number of smaller communities to determine current population levels and whether people will need evacuation, potentially to larger centres such as Marble Bar.

In Punmu, 640km south east of Port Hedland, co-ordinator Paul Brann said children were being evacuated from the community, along with others who wanted to go.

Others were relocating to Newman via road today.

He expected about 10 adults would remain in the community during the coming wild weather, where they had plenty of supplies and cyclone-rated accommodation.

The population at Punmu Community (pictured) is lower than normal due to a number of residents being away on cultural commitments.()

“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Mr Brann said.

“We’ve got enough fuel to generate power for about 80 days. We’ve got a large freezer full of food.

“We’re pretty well prepared — we’ll just bunker down and see it out.”

Residents in Pangurr left yesterday, while Warralong Community was due to be evacuated today.

A Newcrest Resources spokesperson said the Pilbara workforce — 960 people between Telfer and the nearby Havieron project — had been reduced to essential staff only.

“Those who are being asked to demobilise from site are being flown back to Perth, with a view to remobilising them as soon as it is safe to do so,” they said.

“Our first and foremost priority is people’s safety, and we will continue to be guided by forecasts and warnings issued by the Bureau of Meteorology regarding any further actions — which may include reducing staffing levels onsite even more.”


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