Weather News

Cyclone Christine tears through Western Australia's Pilbara, lifting roofs and felling trees

Tuesday December 31, 2013 - 20:48 EDT
ABC image
The roof of Mark and Mandy Cameron's house in Wickham was torn off. - ABC
ABC image
A massive tree and another tree were uprooted and fell against a house in Elliott Way, Karratha. - ABC

Emergency crews are working to repair damage and clear debris after Cyclone Christine brought torrential rain and destructive winds to Western Australia's Pilbara, with residents of one town saying it was the worst in memory.

The category three system hit the coast near Whim Creek, battering communities between Port Hedland and Karratha with gusts of up to 200 kilometres an hour.

The system has now been downgraded to a category one.

There have been more than 50 requests for assistance and several thousand people are still without electricity across the region after winds brought down powerlines.

In Wickham, east of Karratha, where the storm caused the worst of the known damage, roofs were damaged and trees uprooted, including one that fell onto a house, trapping a family inside.

"The family's alright, they're holing up in the house," said Rick Mills from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).

The roof was ripped off Mandy and Mark Cameron's house in Wickham as they and their two children hid inside, fearing the worst.

The family took cover under a mattress in the bathroom as the roof disintegrated.

Wickham resident Karen said the wind roared through the town's homes.

"We have two trees down, we actually have someone's shed that's gone through our backyard," she said.

"There's two roofs that have completely lifted, completely gone. It's very devastating, very scary.

"I know a tree has actually fallen on a house and I think water [has] gone through windows and water gone through doors, because they must be low-lying."

Another resident Wendy says the damage has been significant.

"Quite a few trees are down, and at least one tree looks like it's actually been ripped midway off the trunk of the tree, like someone's just come along and snapped it off and it's just laying on the road," she said.

"From what I can see out our backyard, I would say every single person in Wickham has got a tree down in some form.

"Just a lot of mess, a lot of mess - it's going to take people a few days to clean up."

Roebourne resident Rohith Yalamanchali described the moment the ceiling of his family's house collapsed.

"Our roof came off and the gyp[rock} obviously got saturated with water," he said.

"Got too heavy for the support, and it just fell through, one room after the other."

Red alerts lifted in some areas

The red alert has now been lifted between De Grey and Mardie.

This includes Marble Bar, Port Hedland, South Hedland, Whim Creek, Roebourne, Wickham, Point Samson, Karratha and Dampier.

Emergency crews are warning people to remain vigilant even though the cyclone has been downgraded.

DFES' Chris Arnol says that does not mean the danger is over.

"It is important that the people are aware it's not all over," he said.

"There's still some risks even now that the all clear has been given.

"They'll be out there where there are dangers; entering storm drains for example, or there is infrastructure that isn't in a safe condition, and of course there is the flooding that's inevitably going to come, so that flood risk is ever present."

A red alert remains in place for Tom Price and Paraburdoo, while Pannawonica is on a yellow alert.

There were close to 170 people who sought shelter in evacuation centres in Port Hedland and Karratha.

"There was plenty of food so if they weren't eating they were sleeping," emergency services officer Ngarene Brookes said.

"A lot of them wanted to have a look out and do some cyclone watching so they had to be told they needed to come in and the doors had to be locked, but otherwise there were no problems at all."

Ms Brookes says the tourists at the centre were a little worried.

"At times it's a first for them and they can be quite concerned but you have staff that reassure them, sit and talk to them and explain the process and what's going to happen," she said.

Widespread power blackouts

Horizon Power's Rachel Clarke says not only Karratha but the smaller towns of Roebourne and Point Samson lost electricity just before midnight (local time).

She says at the height of the blackout about 7,000 customers were affected and work is under way to repair the network.

"Horizon Power has been contacted by the SES to give us the go ahead to go out and start inspecting our network," she said.

"So we will be going out with caution to inspect any fallen powerlines and hopefully to start restoring power supplies."

In Karratha, the State Emergency Services' Trevor Patton says initial assessments are being done.

"We have activated the essential services, Water Corp, Horizon and so forth to get out and about to do assessments on their infrastructure and we have crews to do damage assessments around the town," he said.

Horrendous noises as winds howled

Karratha resident Margaret Bertling says having the storm come through at night, combined with the loss of power, was a scary situation.

"We haven't even got a streetlight so it literally [was] pitch black out there with the most horrendous noises," she said.

"Everything is just so uncertain - you just don't know what's going on, you can hear all these noises, lots of banging, lots of creaking, funny thumping noises.

"It's a bit hairy, not the most pleasant thing that I can remember.

"We haven't had one that's been this severe for quite some time."

Port Hedland was the first major centre to get a real taste of the system, experiencing wind gusts of about 130 kilometres an hour at about 6pm yesterday.

But the dangerous storm surge expected by the authorities did not materialise as the cyclone passed as the tide was receding.

The Superintendent of Fire and Emergency Services in Port Hedland, Merv Austic, says the town has been let off lightly.

"Cyclone Christine crossed the coast about midnight and even thought there was lots of strong winds we've got away with just a minimal amount of damage," he said.

He said that while there may be some minor flooding, the original forecast of up to 300-400 mils of rain had not happened.

Main Roads is advising that the Great Northern Highway will be closing from Kumarina to Newman from 4:00 pm (WST) due to expected flooding.

Christine takes aim at inland towns

The cyclone is now moving inland towards towns such as Tom Price and Paraburdoo.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Neil Bennett says the system will continue to weaken as it moves inland.

"It's still having an impact through Paraburdoo and Tom Price and places like that in the Pilbara," he said.

"That's going to continue to weaken, and probably eventually being downgraded to below cyclone status early on New Year's Day."

Shire of Ashburton councillor Peter Foster says it is an unusual situation, having the threat of a cyclone reach that far inland.

"It's been a little while since we've had a cyclone come through Tom Price because usually it's our coastal brothers and sisters that get all the cyclone activity and we don't get a great deal," he said.


© ABC 2013

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