By Rod Mcguirk
Australia’s most powerful tropical cyclone in eight years lashed its northwest coast with winds gusting to an apparent record of 289 kilometres per hour Friday but skirted larger population centres and resulted in no immediate reports of injuries.
Cyclone Ilsa crossed the Pilbara coast of Western Australia state as a Category 5 storm, the most severe, but weakened to Category 2 as it moved inland, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said.
Damage was still being assessed in the path of Ilsa, which made landfall in the early hours 150 kilometres northeast of the iron ore export town of Port Hedland in the rural area of Pardoo.
Pardoo had a population of 47 in the latest census and the Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern was destroyed. The two owners stayed throughout the storm and were unharmed, emergency officials said.
“They’ve had a pretty uncomfortable, challenging night,” Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent Peter McCarthy said.
Beyond Pardoo, Acting Emergency Services Minister Sue Ellery described the storm damage as “fairly minimal.”
Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said he was relieved that Ilsa had shifted toward Pardoo after tracking from the Indian Ocean toward Port Hedland, the world’s largest bulk export port that sends Australian iron ore around the globe. Port Hedland has 16,000 residents and is the largest Pilbara city.
The city’s docks had been cleared of ships, including iron ore carriers, before the storm struck.
Port Hedland residents “feel like they’ve dodged a bullet,” Klemm said. “A Category 5 cyclone impact in Port Hedland would have resulted in significant damage.”
Ilsa apparently set an Australian record with wind gusts in its path recorded as high as 289 kph at Bedout Island off the Pilbara coast before the island’s measuring equipment stopped working, weather bureau manager Todd Smith said. It was not clear whether the equipment malfunctioned or power was cut.
“We’re going to do some checks on the data there, but it’s likely that that will go down as the strongest wind gusts ever recorded by the bureau’s equipment in Australia,” Smith said.
Category 5 cyclones have mean wind speeds exceeding 200 kph with gusts exceeding 280 kph. The last Category 5 storm to cross the Australian coast was Cyclone Marcia in 2015. Marcia caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in the east coast state of Queensland.
Category 2 storms have maximum mean wind speeds of 89 kph to 117 kph with gusts between 125 kph and 164 kph.
The storm will continue to weaken as it tracks southeast across land, the weather bureau said.
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