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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Cait Kelly and Australian Associated Press

Cyclone Ilsa moves inland as WA residents urged to stay vigilant

Pardoo Roadhouse
Pardoo Roadhouse, 150km east of Port Hedland, Western Australia, sustained $4m worth of damage as Cyclone Ilsa bore down on it. Photograph: Kelly Anne Martinez

Communities in the path of Tropical Cyclone Ilsa are being warned to brace for dangerous weather, as the severe storm system works its way inland bringing destructive winds and flooding.

After crossing the coast early on Friday between De Grey and Pardoo as a category 5 system, Ilsa was downgraded to a category 1 cyclone by afternoon, as it tracked quickly through the eastern Pilbara with wind gusts of up to 170km/h.

A red alert remains for Wallal Downs on the coast and inland to Telfer, Punmu and Parnngurr, with authorities urging people in these areas to shelter immediately.

“I wanted to just really emphasise for those communities, even though the system has crossed the coast, please remain vigilant,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s Todd Smith said on Friday.

“We are expecting damaging to destructive winds today and into this evening as the system continues to track towards the east.”

On Friday morning Western Australia’s deputy premier, Roger Cook, said while the cyclone largely spared the coastal communities around Port Hedland, it still represented a threat as it moved inland.

As the cyclone crossed over the north-west between Port Hedland and Broome, it was classified as category 5, with winds as fast as 283km/h – the strongest sustained winds that the Bureau of Meteorology has recorded on the mainland.

The eye of the cyclone passed close to the Pardoo Roadhouse, 150km east of Port Hedland, with owner Kelly Anne Martinez saying the damage would cost $4m.

“Pardoo Roadhouse is a family-run business and we are a very close-knit team,” she said on social media. “This is not just where we work, this is our home and a community for nearby Fifo [fly-in fly-out] workers, truckies and of course travellers.

Pardoo Roadhouse
The damage wreaked by Ilsa on the inside of Pardoo Roadhouse. Photograph: Kelly Anne Martinez

“We are all still a bit shaken and emotional to see the damage from Cyclone Ilsa. She may have wiped us out, but she can’t take away our spirit.

“We face a massive clean-up with plans to rebuild.”

WA Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said the damage at Pardoo was significant but it would take a couple of days to get a full picture.

“What they saw once the sun rise happened would have been devastating to them,” Klemm said.

“So whatever we’re able to do to assist them through the insurance process or whatever else, we’ll make those decisions as we know more.”

Residents sheltered overnight in Port Hedland but emerged to find the town relatively unscathed.

Mayor Peter Carter said he was awake for most of the night, listening to howling winds.

“I was up most of the night, watching the trees, thinking here it comes, then all of a sudden it just died off,” he told AAP.

“It had an eerie feel, really strange – Mother Nature does interesting things. We dodged a major bullet last night.”

The storm is expected to weaken below tropical cyclone strength on Friday night as it moves into southern parts of the Northern Territory.

Forecasters have warned communities including Alice Springs, Yulara and Ti Tree to be on alert for flash flooding and gale-force winds.

“Those really intense rain falls are going to fall over a space of few hours so there could be some flash flooding through the area, particularly the northern parts of the Lasseter district and into the northwest parts of the Simpson Desert,” senior meteorologist Sally Cutter said.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, took to Twitter to deliver a message to those affected: “Take care of yourselves, look after each other, and listen out for updates from local authorities.”

The storms are expected to clear by late Saturday.

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