Cyclone Damien tracker
Towns and cities in WA’s Pilbara region are bracing for severe, destructive winds, torrential rainfall and storm surges after Tropical Cyclone Damien, one of the strongest systems forecast to cross the coast in recent years, intensified overnight.
- Damien will be the most destructive cyclone to cross the WA coast since 2013
- It is likely to hit just east of Karratha, a major population centre in the region
- A yellow alert has been issued ahead of the storm’s arrival on Saturday afternoon
James Crow from the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre in the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the latest projections had the system crossing the coast as a category four — the second-highest classification — on Saturday afternoon.
He said the major city of Karratha remained in the sights of the cyclone, which was upgraded to a category two system this morning.
“We expect the system to intensify today and cross the coast around Karratha-Dampier on Saturday afternoon,” Mr Crow said.
“At this stage we’re looking at a category four system, which could produce very destructive wind gusts in the order of 250 kilometres per hour, so things are going to blow around and there’s potentially heavy rainfall and storm surges associated with the system.”
“The other risk people need to be aware of is the storm surge, depending on the timing of the system.
“So if we get the cyclone and the strongest winds arriving at the time of that high tide then that’s when we are at the greatest risk of seeing the storm surge.”
Damien will be the first severe cyclone to cross the Karratha and Port Hedland area since Cyclone Christine in late December 2013.
Perth to escape cyclone rain
BOM duty forecaster Luke Huntington said it was unlikely Damien would further intensify to category five — the most severe level.
Rainfall in the region could be as high as 300 millimetres, but he said Perth was likely to escape any after-effects of the system as it made its way inland next week.
“At this stage the rainfall looks like it’s going to stay through the inland parts of WA, so at this stage Perth is going to likely miss out on any rainfall,” Mr Huntington said.
“We’ve got it weakening below tropical cyclone strength early on Sunday morning, so that looks like it could be around the Tom Price or Paraburdoo area.
“After then it will be downgraded to a tropical low.”
Yellow alert as residents warned to prepare
A yellow alert has now been issued for people in or near Port Hedland to Mardie and south to Millstream, including Port Hedland, Whim Creek, Point Samson, Wickham, Roebourne, Karratha and Dampier.
People in these areas have been told they need to prepare for cyclonic weather and move to shelter.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Karratha district officer Steve Longo said two evacuation centres had been set up in the area and people should keep up to date with the latest information on radio, TV and online.
“Put your cyclone plan is place. Know where your nearest welfare or evacuation centre is,” he said.
“The two [evacuation] centres for the region will be the Leisureplex in Karratha and the JD Hardie Centre in South Hedland. If you’re going to look at going to those evacuation centres, then when we turn on yellow [alert], that’s the time to self-evacuate to those shelters.”
People in the alert zone were also warned to prepare their houses for the cyclone’s arrival by fastening cyclone screens, boarding up or taping windows and locking doors. Those in low-lying areas should be aware of the risk of storm-surges and localised flooding.
“People should also put fuel in their car because if you do need to go to an evacuation shelter then you’ll need to be able to get there,” Mr Longo said.
Residents stock up ahead of bunkering down
Supermarket car parks in Karratha were almost full by 7:30am today as locals raced to stock up on food and water.
But weather in the city was calm ahead of the cyclone’s arrival, as were most of the locals who spoke to the ABC.
Tony Caetano, who has lived in the region 40 years, said he was hoping for plenty of rain.
“It might be a cat four when it crosses the coast, so we just have to batten down and see what happens,” he said.
Ellen Grochowski said she expected a lot of mess and hopefully some rain. But after recently moving house, she said she hoped the new property would withstand the impact.
“I’m not too worried, we’ll be right,” she said.
“The hardest thing will be trying to keep this one [her young daughter Xanthe] entertained.”
Adam Lagun only recently moved to Karratha but said he had a lot of experience with cyclones from his time living in Queensland.
“We will batten down the hatches, put some mattresses in the hallways, get plenty of supplies, make sure phones are charged up, batteries, lights, torches,” he said.
Industry and ports shut down
From Port Hedland to Onslow, mining companies have begin shutting down port operations in preparation for the cyclone.
Pilbara Ports Authority cleared the port of Dampier overnight, and has started the process of clearing the port of Port Hedland.
The other major Pilbara ports of Cape Lambert, Cape Preston, Barrow Island and Varanus island have all been closed.
With the port of Port Hedland — the largest bulk export port in the southern hemisphere — beginning to clear, there was likely to be a significant impact to the iron ore industry with the majority of Australia’s iron ore supply restricted for a number of days.
Rio Tinto said it was continuing to monitor the movement of Cyclone Damien and “coordinate necessary precautionary steps in line with our standard operating procedure”.
“With strong winds and heavy seas predicted, both Port Walcott (Cape Lambert) and Dampier ports are being cleared, as this impacts the ability to safely moor vessels,” the company said in a statement.
“We have also started the process of demobilising non-essential people from our sites which may be affected by the weather system.”