First Tropical Cyclone of 2006 forms off West Australia

Monday, January 9, 2006

Areas predicted to be affected by Clare over the next 48 hours

The first tropical cyclone of the 2006 Southern Hemisphere cyclone season is off the coast of Western Australia and is predicted to cross land around 9:00PM West Australian Time (1:00PM UTC).

Cyclone Clare has been upgraded to a category three storm by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Earlier today it was feared that Claire could be become a category four storm as it gets closer to land. The Bureau of Meteorology warned that if it became category four it could bring winds up to 240 km/h.

Current warnings are for "very destructive winds with gusts to 195 kilometres per hour are expected in the Dampier, Karratha and Mardie areas this evening", according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Warnings for 150 km/h winds are current inland to Pannawonica.

A number of communties along the coastline are already being battered by strong winds. Neil Bennet, senior forecaster for the Bureau of Meteorology said "We've been looking at gusts around the 80-knot mark, which is roughly 150 to 160 kilometres an hour, being reported from the Dampier area".

At 6:00PM West Australian Time (10:00AM UTC), the cyclone was 65 km North of Karratha and moving South-East at 18 km/h.

Forecasters predict that Clare will hit the Pilbara region between Dampier and Mardie.

Around 1,500 people in low lying areas of Karratha, Dampier, Roebourne, Wickham and Point Samson have been evacuated by State Emergency Service personnel.

"We are asking people ... to basically put an emergency kit of essential items together with them, things like food and water to last 48 hours, medicines, clothes and then just important personal documents, such as passports, wills and any other really essential items" said SES spokesperson Nita Gill.

"Most people who are on higher ground, so long as their home's prepared and sturdy and they're ready, they often will just wait out the cyclone in their home" Ms Gill said.

Australia's two largest ports - Dampier and Port Hedland have been closed. The ports export more than 200 million tonnes of iron ore and liquefied natural gas each year.

Major industries in the area have also closed.

The Bureau of Meteorology warns residents of Karratha and Dampier that a dangerous storm surge may occur causing damaging waves and flooding as the cyclone crosses land. Widespread heavy rain and flooding is likely in the Pilbara and Gascoyne over the next few days.