Tropical cyclone Ilsa: Pardoo Roadhouse owner describes four hours of terror

Sam Jones, Rebecca Le May, Cain Andrews, Elise Van AkenThe West Australian
VideoResidents of WA's North West are counting the cost of damage done by Tropical Cyclone Ilsa, with one historic Pilbara roadhouse almost completely torn apart by the system.

Residents of WA’s North West are counting the cost of damage done by tropical cyclone Ilsa, with one historic Pilbara roadhouse almost completely torn apart by the system.

The severe weather system crossed the WA coast around midnight Friday 150km east of Port Hedland near Pardoo Roadhouse, bringing winds in excess of 250km/h and heavy rain to parts of the East Pilbara, with 194.8mm falling at Bamboo Creek in 24 hours.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Todd Smith, the weather was so extreme, that the record books are already being opened.

“Our automatic weather station recorded a wind gust at 289 kilometres an hour,” he said.

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“We’re going to do some checks on the data there, but it’s likely that that will go down as the strongest wind gust ever recorded by the Bureau’s equipment in Australia.”

And while Port Hedland managed to escape relatively unscathed Pardoo Roadhouse, which sits 150km to the east, wasn’t so lucky.

Workers’ accommodation dongas — empty with all staff hunkered down in a shipping container — were flattened, while the roof of the main roadhouse building was almost completely torn off by the wind.

It’s estimated the total damage bill will be close to $4 million, with the Roadhouse owners launching a GoFundMe page to help pay for the damage.

As of 7.30pm, the GoFundMe had reached close to $11,000.

Pardoo Roadhouse owner Varinder Batth 7NEWS
Camera IconPardoo Roadhouse owner Varinder Batth 7NEWS Credit: 7NEWS/supplied

“The team from Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern wish to let everyone know that all staff are safe and well, and for that, we are truly grateful,” Pardoo Roadhouse manager Kelly Anne Martinez said.

“Pardoo Roadhouse is a family-run business; we are a very close-knit team. This is not just where we work; this is our community and home.

“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. You have lifted our spirits during this challenging time.

“Trees have been uprooted. Sixty to 70 per cent of the solar panels installed last year to power our whole site was blown away. And that’s just the beginning.

“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 our spirit away.”

Despite the tale of devastation, it could’ve been much worse for the roadhouse’s owner, Varinder Batth, who chose to shelter inside the main roadhouse building with his business partner.

Photos of the aftermath of the cyclone.
Camera IconPhotos of the aftermath of the cyclone. Credit: 7NEWS/supplied

“Luckily we survived we were hunkering down in the roadhouse but the roof started to go out so we had to make a run for it,” he told Channel 7.

The system was downgraded to a category one cyclone on Friday afternoon as it headed east across the Sandy Desert towards the Northern Territory border.

And while the system had passed most communities in its forecast path, Acting Emergency Services Minister Sue Ellery warned there were still concerns held for several small communities.

“I want to make the point this is still a live cyclone and danger still exists for those communities in its path,” she said.

“Now a category two, there were several remote communities and mining operations that are yet to feel its impact.”

Minister Ellery said it was the first category five system to make landfall in WA since 2009.

“It would have been for (Pardoo Roadhouse) a terrifying night and a distressing sight this morning,” she said.

Repairs to the roadhouse would be covered by insurance, not disaster relief funds, but the State Government would do what it could to assist that process, she added.

She said it was fortunate other major population centres, including Bidyadanga, were spared the worst of the cyclone.

“I’ve been told that early assessments in those areas show damage is fairly minimal and that’s a huge relief for those people living and working in that area,” she said.

It comes as some 180 people were evacuated by air from Telfer.

In Port Hedland — the largest bulk export port in the world, which ships over $300 million dollars worth of iron ore daily — residents were breathing a collective sigh of relief after the storm grazed the Pilbara town on Thursday night.

Screenshots from 7NEWS coverage of Pardoo Roadhouse and surrounds after Cyclone Ilsa 7NEWS
Camera IconScreenshots from 7NEWS coverage of Pardoo Roadhouse and surrounds after Cyclone Ilsa 7NEWS Credit: 7NEWS/supplied

Locals bunkered down at home when the town went into red alert around 3pm on Thursday, with TC Ilsa sitting some 180km north of Port Hedland when the alert was put in place.

Town of Port Hedland Mayor Peter Carter said locals feared the worst heading into the night but were spared after Ilsa shifted east before making landfall.

“For a while yesterday it kept inching closer and closer to Hedland, it was making a lot of people really really worried,” Mr Carter said.

“Luckily, it seemed to take a turn east before crossing land, so we ended up just copping a tiny bit of rain and a few strong wind gusts.

“We’re thanking our lucky stars really. It was a category five cyclone — if that thing passed over Hedland we would have been in real trouble.”

Mr Carter said he was thankful authorities had taken a precautionary approach with warnings.

“Some people will probably roll their eyes and ask what the hype was about, but it’s really important to remember how unpredictable cyclones are,” he said.

“It’s back to normal this today, there’s barely a (tree) branch out of place, but it could’ve been very different.

“All it would’ve taken is a slightly different track — slightly more west, and Hedland could’ve been destroyed, so we’re relieved and thankful for all the precautions taken.”

Screenshots from 7NEWS coverage of Pardoo Roadhouse and surrounds after Cyclone Ilsa 7NEWS
Camera IconScreenshots from 7NEWS coverage of Pardoo Roadhouse and surrounds after Cyclone Ilsa 7NEWS Credit: 7NEWS/supplied

Mr Carter’s sentiments were shared by Mr Smith, who said Port Hedland had “dodged a bullet” thanks to the cyclone shifting southeast-ward.

The system was still causing concern, with one meteorologist warning a separate weather system pushing up from the south of the State could have impacts on TC Ilsa.

Weatherwatch meteorologist Anthony Cornelius reported it “wasn’t every day” this combination of weather patterns combined.

“Ilsa is likely to speed up its movement today thanks to an approaching cold front and jetstream pushing across from southern Western Australia,” he said on Friday.

“The combination of this acceleration in forward movement and of course its shear intensity will allow Ilsa to likely remain a tropical cyclone for nearly 1000km while travelling over land.”

Anthony Albanese took to Twitter to announce Federal Government assistance was on standby for people in the affected areas.

“To all those affected: take care of yourselves, look after each other, and listen out for updates from local authorities,” he said.

Up the road in Broome, which was given the all-clear on Thursday morning, wave-deprived surfers took to the usually flat waters of Cable Beach, where sizeable swells had formed as a result of the system.

Broome-based photographer Michael Jalaru Torres snapped pictures of the surfers as they enjoyed what was one of only a handful of wavey days at the beach.

Great Northern Highway between Port Hedland and Broome had been closed since Wednesday but is forecast to reopen by the end of the weekend.

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