Authorities are assessing the damage after Tropical Cyclone Christine brought torrential rain and destructive winds to Western Australia’s Pilbara, with residents of one town saying it was the worst in memory.
Communities between Port Hedland and Karratha were battered by the category three storm that crossed the coast near Whim Creek last night.
The cyclone, which has been downgraded to a category two system, brought winds of more than 170 kilometres per hour and heavy rain, which will continue in parts of the region today.
The power supply to hundreds of homes was cut and there was a total blackout in Karratha.
In Wickham, east of Karratha, where the storm caused the worst of the known damage, roofs were damaged and trees uprooted, including one that fell onto a house, trapping a family inside.
“The family’s alright, they’re holing up in the house,” said Rick Mills from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).
Wickham resident Karen said the wind roared through the town’s homes.
“We have two trees down, we actually have someone’s shed that’s gone through our backyard,” she said.
“There’s two roofs that have completely lifted, completely gone. It’s very devastating, very scary.
“I know a tree has actually fallen on a house and I think water [has] gone through windows and water gone through doors, because they must be low-lying.”
Another resident Wendy says the damage has been significant.
“Quite a few trees are down, and at least one tree looks like it’s actually been ripped midway off the trunk of the tree, like someone’s just come along and snapped it off and it’s just laying on the road,” she said.
“From what I can see out our backyard, I would say every single person in Wickham has got a tree down in some form.
“Just a lot of mess, a lot of mess – it’s going to take people a few days to clean up.”
Mr Mills says the callouts to Wickham, which has about 1,800 residents, will be dealt with on a priority basis.
“SES crews will be heading out there today to fell that tree once we downgrade the alerts,” he said.
Les Hayter, also from DFES, says there are reports of people ignoring the red alerts in Karratha and Roebourne.
He says they need to return indoors as more strong winds are expected, and the all clear has not been given.
“We’d certainly appreciate that if those people that are in vehicles would get off the road, go back to their shelters and stay there till the all clear is given,” he said.
“Not on the road because you’ll be inconveniencing people trying to do a job. Also the fact is, it’s quite illegal and it’s quite unsafe.”
The red alert remains current for Port Hedland, Karratha, Roebourne, Wickham and coastal communities.
There were close to 170 people who sought shelter in evacuation centres in Port Hedland and Karratha.
“There was plenty of food so if they weren’t eating they were sleeping,” emergency services officer Ngarene Brookes said.
“A lot of them wanted to have a look out and do some cyclone watching so they had to be told they needed to come in and the doors had to be locked, but otherwise there were no problems at all.”
Ms Brookes says the tourists at the centre were a little worried.
“At times it’s a first for them and they can be quite concerned but you have staff that reassure them, sit and talk to them and explain the process and what’s going to happen,” she said.
Horizon Power’s Rachel Clarke says not only Karratha but the smaller towns of Roebourne and Point Samson have been without electricity since just before midnight (local time).
She says about 7,000 customers have been affected and they will start work repairing the network this morning.
“Horizon Power has been contacted by the SES to give us the go ahead to go out and start inspecting our network,” she said.
“Obviously that go ahead is for Horizon Power, it’s not for everybody, so we will be going out with caution just to inspect any fallen powerlines and hopefully to start restoring power supplies.”
In Karratha, the State Emergency Services’ Trevor Patton says a red alert will remain while initial assessments are done.
“We have activated the essential services, Water Corp, Horizon and so forth to get out and about to do assessments on their infrastructure and we have crews to do damage assessments around the town,” he said.
Karratha resident Margaret Bertling says having the storm come through at night, combined with the loss of power, was a scary situation.
“We haven’t even got a streetlight so it literally is pitch black out there with the most horrendous noises,” she said.
“Everything is just so uncertain – you just don’t know what’s going on, you can hear all these noises, lots of banging, lots of creaking, funny thumping noises.
“It’s a bit hairy, not the most pleasant thing that I can remember.
“We haven’t had one that’s been this severe for quite some time.”
Port Hedland was the first major centre to get a real taste of the system, experiencing wind gusts of about 130 kilometres an hour at about 6pm yesterday.
But the dangerous storm surge expected by the authorities did not materialise as the cyclone passed as the tide was receding.
The Superintendent of Fire and Emergency Services in Port Hedland, Merv Austic, says the town has been let off lightly.
He said they had received just 27 calls for help as trees had fallen onto houses leaving properties with roof damage and minor flooding.
“Cyclone Christine crossed the coast about midnight and even thought there was lots of strong winds we’ve got away with just a minimal amount of damage,” he said.
He said that while there may be some minor flooding, the original forecast of up to 300-400 mils of rain had not happened.
The cyclone is now moving inland towards towns such as Tom Price and Paraburdoo.
It is then expected to pass near Three Rivers station as a category one cyclone by this evening, before progressing as a significant tropical low progressing through the state’s south east.
Shire of Ashburton councillor Peter Foster says it is an unusual situation, having the threat of a significant cyclone reach that far inland.
“It’s been a little while since we’ve had a cyclone come through Tom Price because usually it’s our coastal brothers and sisters that get all the cyclone activity and we don’t get a great deal,” he said.
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