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Cyclone Ilsa clean-up underway as engineers assess outback buildings

Pardoo Roadhouse copped the full brunt of Tropical Cyclone Ilsa, but damage elsewhere appears to have been minimal. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

Structural specialists will assess the ability of buildings in remote inland Western Australia to withstand cyclonic weather as the clean-up from the passage of Severe Tropical Cyclone Ilsa continues.

And while emergency services were still dealing with the aftermath of Ilsa, firefighters were forced to battle bushfires that broke out on Saturday just 15 kilometres south-east of the Pilbara town of Port Hedland.

A bushfire advice remained in place on Sunday for people travelling along the Great Northern Highway from Twelve Mile Creek Road to Marble Bar Road in parts of Pippingarra and Strelley. 

On Saturday, State Department of Fire and Emergency Services Pilbara Superintendent Peter McCarthy said the fires had so far burned through about 800 hectares of land.

Fires broke out south-east of Port Hedland, blanketing the area in smoke. (ABC News: Jessica Hayes)

"There is a number of industrial sites just around that area, so we've got crews protecting on-site for anything that is in the line of this fire," he said.

Firefighters continued to battle the blaze, which remained out of control and unpredictable, on Sunday morning.

Firefighters continued to battle the blaze on Sunday. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

Ilsa was downgraded to a tropical low on Saturday but people in the De Grey river catchment were warned about minor flooding in the area.

While cyclone reports were still trickling in from remote communities, pastoral stations and mine sites along the system's path, the worst of the damage appeared to have been confined to Pardoo, 150 kilometres east of Port Hedland.

Remote communities such as Punmu, Parnngurr and Warralong evacuated children and vulnerable residents ahead of Ilsa's passage, while small numbers of remaining residents and staff sheltered in the limited cyclone-rated accommodation available.

The strength of those remote buildings is something structural engineer Geoff Boughton hopes to examine as his team from James Cook University joins the post-cyclone response.

"We'll be in touch with them and hopefully working with them as part of their recovery programs, and look at what's gone wrong," he said.

"We'll evaluate what needs to be done to build some more resiliency into those communities.

"We did that after Cyclone Seroja in Kalbarri but, ultimately, buildings have been damaged and that's telling us that something went wrong and we've got to change the way we design things or change the way we build things, or both."

Geoff Boughton will help review the robustness of structures in the region. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Mr Boughton said communities within 100km of the Pilbara coast were built to withstand cyclones, but those further inland were not.

He said new Australian standards were being developed to disaster-proof buildings.

"As a result of [those standards] future buildings are going to be designed with more resilience to be able to cope with the internal pressures that happen within a building when a tropical cyclone happens," Mr Boughton said.

"We're certainly keeping a close eye on the damage that Cyclone Ilsa has done, and see whether there's anything else we can do to improve future buildings."

Vulnerable residents and children were evacuated from remote communities such as Parnngurr ahead of the storm's passage. (ABC Pilbara: Verity Gorman)

A 'ragged' night on red alert

In Marble Bar, nurse Sarah Doherty spent the bulk of yesterday morning waiting for the all-clear signal from authorities.

The inland town, more famous for its record-setting heat than wet weather, had been hit with just over 60 millimetres of rain by midday yesterday.

Cyclone Ilsa unleashed heavy rain in some parts of WA's north. (Supplied: DFES)

Bamboo Creek, to the north-east, received 195mm and and 50mm fell at Telfer.

"The night was a little bit ragged — the anticipation was tremendous," Ms Doherty said.

"I stayed in the clinic — it was a category-five rated building.

"We thought we were the safest in town.

"My mother started calling at 4:30 … it was all a bit of a surprise, a bit of a blur."

Remote Punmu escapes major damage

In Punmu, 640km south-east of Port Hedland, coordinator Paul Brann said some relatively minor damage to property had been discovered, but otherwise the community appeared to get off lightly.

"We've done a quick assessment of the buildings and we've got some water damage inside the [home and community care centre]," he said.

The homes of people who were evacuated have not been checked as yet.

As the cyclone passed through on Friday afternoon, 13 adults were still in community. Children and vulnerable residents had been evacuated earlier.

Mr Brann said he was unsure when evacuated residents would be able to return, because roads to the community would be cut off after the intense rainfall that came with the cyclone.

"We're almost certainly cut off. Telpher Road will be closed and I'm sure, this side of Marble Bar, rivers will be flowing for sure."

He said emergency services would be flying over to assess the damage to roads on Saturday afternoon.

SES volunteers are helping with the clean-up in the Pilbara. (ABC News: Cason Ho)
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