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Rusty spares Port Hedland, heads inland

Thursday February 28, 2013 - 14:59 EDT

An all-clear has been issued in Port Hedland after Tropical Cyclone Rusty missed the Pilbara mining town, causing only minor damage as it crossed the coast to the east.

This morning Rusty had weakened to a category-two system as it moved inland towards Marble Bar in Western Australia's Pilbara.

Port Hedland was expected to bear the brunt as the system crossed the coast yesterday afternoon as a category-three storm, but emergency services said it caused only minor damage.

The tiny community of Pardoo, which has one roadhouse and one cattle station, was directly in the line of fire when Rusty hit the coast at category-three yesterday, but even there the storm only caused minor damage to roofs.

Communities between Pardoo and Nullagine remain on red alert this morning and people there are being told to stay indoors, while towns between Nullagine and Newman have been told to prepare for cyclonic weather.

Nullagine police say residents are in good spirits as the weakened system tracks towards them.

Sergeant Graeme Bond says people are either in lock-down at home or camped at the primary school evacuation shelter as the cyclone approaches.

"The Irrungadji community is in there at the moment, we've got about 55 people there at the moment and we've got DCP and local people in there looking after everyone, " he said.

The system is still expected to pack winds of more than 125 kilometres per hour at its core and is tipped to continue to dump heavy rain on the sodden Pilbara.


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Department of Fire and Emergency Services spokesman John Franklin said emergency services had only received between seven and 10 calls to help with "minor damage" in Port Hedland.

"It might have been a caravan that was unstable due to some winds, the roof sheeting may be dislodged, nothing major, and no reports of roofs that had been ripped off or anything of that nature," he said.

South Hedland police Senior Sergeant Ron Patchett said the towns appeared to have sustained only minor damage.

"We were expecting the worst, we were expecting to get smashed, [causing] as much damage as [it was] going to be possible [for] a cyclone to do ... and as a result we're all feeling a bit lucky," he said.

Hedland resident Elise Batchelor says she is relieved they have been given the all clear.

"Everyone was prepared for something very big and for something that might come very close to the town," she said.

"However it would appear Rusty has hit the coast to the east of the town and over a more unpopulated area and we have been spared.

"Townspeople will clean up any mess in their properties and resume life as normal."

But the aftermath of the storm will still be felt in the town today, with the Education Department confirming local schools will remain closed.

Ian Badger at Pardoo Roadhouse said the winds were strong and the rain steady.

"It's just a matter of hanging on. The amount of water that's around is a bit worrying," he said.

"The ground is very sodden, very soft. As soon as you get a get a bit of strong wind, trees start going over."

The effects of Rusty are also being felt further north, where supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs and milk are starting to run low.

The closure of the Great Northern Highway has meant freight trucks are banked up at Port Hedland, leading to empty shelves at some supermarkets in Broome and Derby.

The State Emergency Service's West Kimberley officer Matt Reimer says there is plenty of food to go around and people should not panic-buy.

"People aren't going to starve," he said.

"The major supermarkets in town have contingencies for this very situation and if it comes to that, they can use alternative transport routes to get their normal orders in."


© ABC 2013

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