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Cyclone heads for Pilbara coast, residents on red alert

| 12.01,12. 06:20 AM |



Cyclone heads for Pilbara coast, residents on red alert


 January 12, 2012

A RED alert has been sounded for Port Hedland residents in WA tonight as Cyclone Heidi closes in and storm surges threaten to inundate low lying parts of the town.
At 6pm, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a red alert for coastal and island communities between Pardoo and Whim Creek, including the communities of Pardoo, Port Hedland, South Hedland and Whim Creek.

People in these areas should move to shelter immediately if they have not done so already.

Evacuation of residents in low-lying parts of Port Hedland to emergency shelters began earlier this afternoon after Fire and Emergency Services Authority issued an emergency warning as Cyclone Heidi intensified.

FESA warned that rapid and powerful flooding is likely as a result of dangerous storm tides tonight as Tropical Cyclone Heidi approaches the Pilbara coast.

A relocation point at the JD Hardie Centre on Cottier Drive in South Hedland and people moving to the centre are advised to bring bring non-perishable food and temporary bedding for their family.

* Latest BOM information

At 8pm, the tropical storm was a Category Two system about 95km north-north-east of Port Hedland and 255km east-north-east of Karratha as it moves south towards the coast at 10km/h.

The cyclone is packing winds gusts of up to 140km/h near the centre.

A cyclone warning is now current for coastal areas from Wallal to Dampier, including Port Hedland, Roebourne, Karratha and Dampier, and extends to adjacent inland parts.

The cyclone warning from Sandfire Roadhouse to Wallal has been cancelled. Once the cyclone hits land it is expected to be downgraded to a Category One storm again.

The heaviest rainfall is expected to the east and south of the system, with rainfall totals of up to 250mm possible across the central and eastern Pilbara.

It is the first cyclone of the season expected to hit land and the second to form off WA’s coast since the season began on November 1.

* Regional flights cancelled

Perth Ariport advises passengers planning travel to or from the north-west of Western Australia that some flights
have been cancelled due to the cyclone.

Flights affected include those to and from Cloudbreak, Port Hedland and Karratha.

Passengers should check with their airline for the most up-to-date information on flights to and from this area.

* Ports prepares for imminent storms

Port Hedland Port Authority spokesman Steed Farrell said the port had activated its cyclone contingency plan at 4pm (WST) yesterday in preparation for the wild weather.

"We cleared inbound traffic into the port and cleared the port of vessels that needed to get out," he said.

"There was enough risk to activate the plan and all non-essential staff will go home."

Mr Farrell said the port would wait for word from the weather bureau before resuming operations.

The weather bureau says little to no rainfall has been reported in the area during the past 24 hours, but very heavy rainfall is expected later today and overnight in the river catchments between Port Hedland and Karratha.

Up to 250mm of rain is possible across central and eastern Pilbara with isolated heavier falls near the coast, the bureau says.

Moisture from the cyclone is expected to spread south triggering showers and thunderstorms over the Gascoyne, Goldfields and Central Wheatbelt, according to the Weather Channel.

The Weather Channel’s meteorologist Dick Whitaker said most of WA, except for the far south, will be soaked.

"Rain will continue through northern and central WA on Thursday and Friday as Heidi moves further inland and weakens. Further heavy falls are possible, particularly across the Pilbara," Mr Whitaker said.
"Across the weekend, rain will mostly clear from the north but will continue over central regions and also spread to the south coast as the remnants of Heidi head down the west coast."

"Over the coming week, most of northern and central WA can expect over 50mm of rain but parts of the eastern Pilbara and Goldfields should see over 100mm.

"The drenching may come as a surprise to the Goldfields and Gascoyne where January rain averages only about 25mm."

* Destructive wind and storm tide warnings

The latest advice from the Bureau is that destructive winds with gusts to 155km/h are possible overnight close to the cyclone centre between Whim Creek and Pardoo, including Port Hedland.

Gales with gusts to 100km/h are expected in coastal areas east of Whim Creek this afternoon and evening, and may extend west to Dampier overnight if the cyclone takes a more southwest track.

Residents in and near Port Hedland and east to Wallal are specifically warned of the potential of a dangerous storm tide as the cyclone centre crosses the coast overnight.

Tides are likely to rise significantly above the normal high tide mark with dangerous flooding of low-lying areas, and tides elsewhere in the Pilbara should also be higher than normal.

* 'Significant risk' of more severe cyclones

WA is currently experiencing La Nina conditions, where lower sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean create a see-saw of pressure, triggering thunderstorms and cyclonic activity.

Coastal communities between Broome and Exmouth face the highest cyclone risk of anywhere in Australia.

The bureau predicted in October that two cyclones will hit the WA coast, with a "significant risk" of at least one severe tropical cyclone impacting WA this year.

The first cyclone this season was a category three storm called Tropical Cyclone Alenga, which formed near Cocos Island in early December.

* RED ALERT: People in or near coastal and island communities between Pardoo and Whim Creek, including the communities of Pardoo, Port Hedland, South Hedland and Whim Creek need to go to shelter immediately.

There is a threat to lives and homes. You are in danger and need to act immediately.

FESA's State Emergency Service advises you to:
- You need to take shelter and go immediately to the strongest, safest part of your house or go to your closest welfare centre if advised to do so.
- Keep your emergency kit with you.
- Stay away from doors and windows, and keep them closed.
- Stay indoors until the ALL CLEAR is given by authorities.

If you are living in a caravan or structure that was built without Town of Port Hedland approval you should not shelter there. You need to relocate now.

The Department for Child Protection has set up a relocation point at JD Hardie Centre, Cottier Drive in South Hedland.

People relocating to the centre should bring non-perishable food and temporary bedding for their family.

Be aware that only essential items can be taken into welfare centres - alcohol and pets, except guide and assistance dogs, are prohibited.

* BLUE ALERT: People in or near coastal and island communities between Whim Creek and Dampier, including the communities of Roebourne, Pt Samson, Karratha, and Dampier need to prepare for cyclonic weather and organise an emergency kit including first aid kit, torch, portable radio, spare batteries, food and water.

Several roads are closed in the region, including:
- Great Northern Highway from Port Hedland to Roebuck
- Great Northern Highway from Sandfire to Port Hedland
- Great Northern Highway from Port Hedland to Auski
- North West Coastal Highway from Port Hedland to Roebuck
- Marble Bar Road from Port Hedland to Marble Bar

* Details of Tropical Cyclone Heidi at 8pm WST:
- Centre located near - 19.5 degrees South 118.9 degrees East
- Location accuracy - within 30 kilometres
- Recent movement - towards the south at 10 kilometres per hour
 -Wind gusts near centre - 140 kilometres per hour
- Severity category - 2
- Central pressure - 980 hectoPascals


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