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Severe Tropical Cyclone Ilsa makes landfall on WA's Kimberley-Pilbara coast as category five system

The Pardoo Roadhouse suffered significant impact from Cyclone Ilsa.  (Supplied: Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern)

Tropical Cyclone Ilsa has officially crossed Western Australia's north coast between De Grey and Pardoo Roadhouse as a category five system before being downgraded to category three, with its impact now being felt inland. 

Authorities say major centres in WA's north-west such as Port Hedland have avoided serious damage, but Pardoo Roadhouse has been badly hit.

The cyclone made landfall just after 12:00am WST and weakened to a category three system just before 4:00am.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said there had been extreme wind gusts of up to 274 kilometres per hour. The latest update has sustained winds near the centre of 120 kph with gusts up to 165 kph.

Ilsa is about 160 kilometres east of Marble Bar and 105 kilometres west-northwest of Telfer, moving south-east at 28 kph, and is expected to weaken further as it continues to track inland through the eastern Pilbara.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) duty chief superintendent Peter Sutton said towns in the region appeared to have escaped the brunt of the cyclone.

"There are no reports of injury to people and all critical infrastructure as far as we're aware doesn't have any damage, including power," he said.

The owners of De Grey Station are taking stock, with some trees damaged in the cyclone. (Supplied: Mark Bettini)

The BOM said the system's very destructive winds were moving inland between Marble Bar and Telfer.

A red alert remains in place for people in Wallal Downs and south to De Grey, and inland to Kunawarritji, including Marble Bar, Nullagine, Telfer, Punmu and Parnngurr.

Stormy skies loomed across the Pilbara as Tropical Cyclone Ilsa made its presence felt. (Suppplied: WA Police)

A yellow alert has been issued for inland areas south of Kunawarritji in the Pilbara.

The cyclone warning has been cancelled between Broome and Wallal Downs, and from Whim Creek to De Grey, extending inland to Marble Bar.

'Extensive damage' at Pardoo Roadhouse

In a Facebook post, the owners of Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern said the property had been "wiped out" by the cyclone, but they were safe.

The roof of Pardoo Roadhouse was ripped off in Cyclone Ilsa and the store left a scene of destruction. (Supplied: Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern)

"Pardoo Roadhouse is a family run business and we are a very close-knit team," the post said.

"We have been inundated with messages from across the globe, and on behalf of our team, I want to thank everyone who reached out to us.

"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."

Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern was severely damaged by Severe Tropical Cyclone Ilsa. 14/4/23 (Supplied: Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern)

DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said a helicopter would be sent up to assess the damage.

“The owners were sheltering onsite in a sea container and we’ve heard there is extensive damage there," DFES duty assistant commissioner Jon Broomhall said.

Mr Broomhall said it was too early to provide a further update on the extent of the damage and urged residents to remain inside.

"The important message is don’t come out until you get the all-clear message," he said.

'It was quite unnerving'

Pardoo Station manager Scott Fraser said he was expecting significant damage at the property, but was most worried about his 5,000 head of cattle.

Scott Fraser says he is relieved the cyclone has weakened, but is afraid about the fate of his cattle.  (ABC News: Cason Ho)

He described the sound of the storm as it headed towards the station around 2:30am on Friday.

"The weather was sort of broken where we were and there was a light breeze.You could hear the cyclone roaring, it was quite unnerving actually and there was a lot of lightning," he said.

Mr Fraser suspected the water tanks on the property had "exploded from the air pressure" because a recording of stock levels had indicated they had "emptied quite suddenly".

"But I am more worried about the cattle more than anything else," he said.

While Mr Fraser has lived through flooding in Queensland, this was his first cyclone and he anticipated the damage would be worse than anything he had seen before.

Mr Klemm said residents within the red alert zone needed to remain indoors.

"Warning levels are there for a reason — for people's safety," he said.

"It is incredibly dangerous to be out in those environments, and it risks the lives of first responders to go out there and protect those people.

"We've seen this happen during a previous cyclone in Port Hedland."

Areas further inland have been placed under lower levels of alert.

'Still a really severe system': BOM

The BOM described it as a "well-behaved" system that was closely following the forecast tracking map.

The night skies over the Karntama Village Mine Camp near Nullagine were spectacular ahead of Cyclone Ilsa. (Facebook: Tashlin Jeffries)

Heavy to intense rainfall is expected along the track of Ilsa, with 150 to 200mm of rainfall possible today near the cyclone's path.

"It is nicely following the track map just to the east of Marble Bar," BOM duty forecaster Jessica Lingard said.

"We are expecting to downgrade it to a category two system today as the system nears towards Telfer."

Ms Lingard said there was still a risk of damage for those in Ilsa's path.

"Telfer could be in store for category-two strength winds, so that means sustained winds over 89 to 117 kilometres an hour," she said.

"At that sort of wind speed we're looking at maybe some minor house damage, some significant damage to road signs, trees, caravans."

Earlier, the BOM's Shenagh Gamble said the cyclone would still be "a really severe system" as it tracked inland.

"We’ve been getting some good observations from an agricultural site there, so they’ve had about 103mm of rain," Ms Gamble said.

"What’s quite interesting is they’ve had a wind gust of 130 kilometres an hour at that site there, so it's a pretty hefty system that's moving through."

Record-breaking winds off coast

Earlier, Ilsa set a new sustained wind speed record of 218 kph as it passed over a recording station on Bedout Island, off the Pilbara coast.

"Previously that record was 194 kph in 2007, which I presume was Cyclone George," BOM duty forecaster Catherine Schelfout said.

"Now it's just recorded 218 kph which someone has just said, it's blown the record away.

"That's really very destructive winds."

From there, the system is expected to weaken slightly, while maintaining its structure and intensity, with cyclonic conditions expected to impact inland communities across the Pilbara over coming days.

Nearly 100 additional DFES personnel were flown to the Kimberley and Pilbara ahead of Ilsa's arrival, and Mr Klemm said authorities were preparing for an extended clean-up and relief effort.

Locals take shelter

As residents across the town bunkered down for the night, Port Hedland retiree Jenny Higgins said she felt well-prepared.

"I have water stored, I have lights and an indoor fan ready, we have plenty of food in the house, so we will hunker down and wait for it to blow over," she said.

"It's very wet, our grassy area of the house becomes a swimming pool — we're right on the sea, so we get a really good view of the noise, the sea, the wind."

Great Northern Highway has been shut from just east of Port Hedland. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

Ms Higgins said Ilsa would not be her first major storm.

"I've been through a few typhoons in Hong Kong where the buildings swayed, and you just sit it out," she said.

"You live in an area like this and you've got to expect things like this.

"Just stay indoors, stay hunkered down, get out the board games and enjoy the family with you."

The Great Northern Highway is expected to remain closed between Port Hedland and Broome for several days.

Sections of Marble Bar Road, Ripon Hills Road and Gibb River Road have also been closed.

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