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Cyclone Rusty gathers strength off Pilbara coast

Tuesday February 26, 2013 - 20:35 EDT

Residents in Western Australia's Pilbara region are on alert for destructive weather overnight as Tropical Cyclone Rusty moves slowly towards the coast.

A red alert has been issued for the Port Hedland area and locals are being warned they can expect to hunker down for more than 36 hours.

The category-three system is expected cross the coast tomorrow evening and forecasters predict it will intensify as it gets closer to land.

Low-lying areas in the town have been evacuated with a storm surge expected when Rusty hits, and the weather bureau is also warning of phenomenal amounts of rain.


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The bureau's regional director, Mike Bergin, says Port Hedland will experience Perth's entire winter rainfall in just three days.

"It's going to be a long, protracted and quite dangerous experience," he said.

"Storm surge is going to be a particular problem; rainfall, we still expect to see cumulative totals over the three days of over 500 millimetres, and perhaps up to 600."

Earlier, the bureau's Andrew Burton likened the system to a storm of biblical proportions.

"We are talking Noah's Ark here, we really are talking phenomenal amounts of rainfall," he said.

The red alert is current for people living in, or near, communities between Pardoo and Whim Creek.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services is advising people to remain in the strongest part of their house, making sure they have food and water.

A DFES spokesman, Phil Cribb, says residents should remain vigilant despite the long wait.

"There'll be buildings that may be damaged, there may be loose tin, flying objects," he said.

"Power may be down and there may be airborne hazards from asbestos or septics and those sorts of things.

"It's about listening and being vigilant to make sure that if something does happen, they're ready to act."

The strong winds have brought down some overhead power lines and hundreds of houses and businesses are without electricity.

Horizon Power's Roman Raudonikis says the lines cannot be repaired until after the cyclone has passed.

"We know where the fault is, it's just a case that we can't get into the air to safely repair the damage," he said.

"As soon as the all-clear is given the crews will be on site and working to repair that."

Emergency authorities say the South Hedland stadium, which is being used as an evacuation centre, is at capacity.

Port Hedland deputy mayor, George Deccache, says the stadium can hold more than 500 people.

"The welfare centres are available to everyone who are in temporary accommodation such as caravans, backpackers or anyone who needs a safer place to stay during this period," he said.

"Both cyclone welfare centres in Port and South Hedland will be well equipped with all the basics such as food, water, blankets, and sleeping mats."

Michelle Davison, a fly-in fly-out worker from Queensland, was one of the first to arrive at the Port Hedland evacuation centre.

"When there's a cyclone on and you're told to evacuate, the smartest thing you can do is follow the directions you're given," she said.

"That gives your family reassurance as well.

"I phoned my partner and said we'd been evacuated and he said 'ok good you're going somewhere safer', so it gives them comfort."

The Yandi Yarra and the Warralong Aboriginal communities have also been evacuated.

Mining giants Fortescue Metals and Atlas Iron have both locked down all operations in Port Hedland, with all work suspended.

The Port handles a fifth of all sea-borne iron ore, and the cyclone has halted the loading of millions of tonnes of the commodity.

Rio Tinto says it has stopped ship loading at nearby Dampier and Cape Lambert, but all other operations including rail and stockpiling are continuing.

Meanwhile eight schools in Hedland are closed until further notice, including Hedland Senior High School and Port and South Hedland primary schools.

The Yandi Yarra Remote Community School and Marble Bar and Nullagine primary schools have been closed due to a risk of flooding.


© ABC 2013

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