| 07.02,20. 05:31 AM |
Cyclone Damien upgraded, now predicted to be category four when it crosses WA Pilbara coast
As Tropical Cyclone Damien heads for Western Australia's Pilbara coast as a powerful category 4 system, the ferocity of last year's Cyclone Veronica would be fresh in residents' minds, but this one is shaping up to be a very different kind of beast.
Cyclone Damien formed on Thursday afternoon in warm waters off WA's north and is set to be the first severe tropical cyclone to make landfall in Australia this season.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is forecasting a coastal crossing between Karratha and Port Hedland on Saturday.
Before making landfall it is expected to strengthen into a category four system — the second-highest intensity possible — which means it could produce wind gusts of up to 279 kilometres per hour.
"There's heavy rainfall associated with this system and also strong winds," BOM spokesman Neil Bennett said.
"The other problem as it approaches the coast is the abnormally high tides which could cause some serious flooding between Dampier and Wallal, and that does include Karratha and Port Hedland on Saturday."
Two cyclones, two very different impacts
Parts of the Pilbara coast are still recovering from the devastation caused by Cyclone Veronica, which peaked as a category five system in March last year, but did not make landfall.
Instead it stalled near the coast for 24 hours, subjecting Port Hedland, Karratha and other smaller communities to a prolonged period of gale-force winds and heavy rainfall.
It then steered west, parallel to the coast, at a slow pace, causing widespread destruction.
Properties in the Port Hedland area were cut off by floodwaters and there were major disruptions to the mining and oil and gas industries.
"Because it was slow moving, hung in the area for a long time and moved parallel to the coast it impacted a larger area of the coast," Mr Bennett said.
"Whereas with Damien it looks like it's going to come ashore and there will be an area around it that will be immediately impacted, but it will be moving in an almost straight line down across the coast and then further to the south."
Memories of the power of Christine
Damien will be the first severe cyclone to cross the Karratha and Port Hedland area since Cyclone Christine in late December 2013.
Karratha man Johnnie Mac remembered it well as he was forced to huddle with his family at their Roebourne home when it hit.
"That was a really freaky one," he said.
"It was quite heavy and I remember coming out during the calm of the storm and there was a guy walking down the street and he said, 'you got a cigarette' and I said, 'no, but I've got a house.
"It smashed everything. We had the neighbour's roof in our backyard and we had a trampoline that was like a yo-yo.
"We chained it down, but it just kept going up and down. So there wasn't much left at the end of it."
Mr Mac spent his lunch break on Thursday sandbagging and said while the SES was only handing out 10 sandbags per person, he would be getting more when his partner arrived home.
"For a set of double doors, you probably need at least five bags," he said.
"So I don't know how well that'll work, but if you could put more in you'd put seven or nine across double doors to make sure that there's no leakage points or at least slow down the water as much as possible."
Schools closed, blue alert issued
Karratha SES local manager Trevor Patton said sandbags were available for local community members from the depot on Balmoral Road, but bags were limited to 10 per person.
"Due to the influx of previous cyclones, we're limiting that. Obviously we don't have an endless supply, we just need people to bear that in mind," he said.
"They are for stopping water infiltration into your house, they're not for any other purpose."
Schools in the Pilbara region will be closed on Friday.
Karratha Airport will be closed an hour before a red alert is issued.
A blue alert has been issued for people in or near Port Hedland to Mardie. This includes Port Hedland, Whim Creek, Point Samson, Wickham, Roebourne, Karratha, Dampier and Pannawonica.
People in those areas have been advised need to prepare for cyclonic weather and organise an emergency kit including a first-aid kit, torch, portable radio, spare batteries, food and water.