Visitors told get out as Veronica nears Pilbara coast

Tom Zaunmayr, Stuart McKinnon and Daneka HillPilbara News
VideoThe Northern Territory prepare for a pre-storm evacuation as Cyclone Trevor tracks towards the region. While Cyclone Veronica is expected to strengthen to a category five before making landfall in WA sometime this weekend.

Tourists in the Pilbara are being urged to leave the region and fly-in, fly-out staff have been sent home as a monster cyclone bears down.

Port Hedland, Karratha and surrounding towns and stations were upgraded to a warning zone last night as severe tropical cyclone Veronica continued its march towards land.

The category four cyclone is expected to make landfall on Sunday between Karratha and Hedland and could bring widespread flooding.

BHP has sent non-essential FIFO staff home and began clearing the port yesterday. Rio Tinto also began clearing Dampier and Cape Lambert ports.

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Department of Fire and Emergency Services acting chief superintendent Paul Carr said anyone who did not need to be in the region, including anglers in Exmouth for the GAMEX competition, should reconsider travel plans.

“Why put yourself at risk and risk your boat for a fishing competition,” he said.

“There hasn’t been a cyclone up that part of the world for some time so we are concerned about some level of complacency seeping in.

“If you don’t need to be there or feel uncomfortable, there is time to leave early.”

DFES has sent 35 staff and volunteers to the region from Perth to assist local emergency services crews.

A GAMEX spokesman said the competition would continue unless Exmouth was placed on cyclone alert.

“In that case, the tournament would be suspended until the alert is lifted and conditions would then be assessed to see if fishing could continue.

“The current forecast track map for Cyclone Veronica has it passing well to the north of Exmouth, so there are no plans to change any part of GAMEX at this stage.”

Veronica is expected to make landfall as a category four cyclone between Karratha and Port Hedland as early as Saturday night, bringing wind gusts of up to 250km/h and heavy rain.

Supermarket shelves in the Pilbara have been stripped bare ahead of Cyclone Veronica.
Camera IconSupermarket shelves in the Pilbara have been stripped bare ahead of Cyclone Veronica. Credit: Paige Simmons

Compounding concerns is the potential for the cyclone to hit at the height of the spring tide currently being experienced in the region, which would create a dangerous storm surge.

More than 300mm of rain is predicted in the warning zone and damaging wind gusts of up to 250km/h could be experienced near the eye of the storm.

Bureau of Meteorology WA state manager James Ashley said the potential for heavy rainfall was enhanced due to the system’s slow movement.

“We are expecting gales to commence as early as Friday evening on the Pilbara coast, and as the cyclone moves further south those winds will increase,” he said.

“It will produce flooding, roadways will be cut off, and people need to take care.”

Mr Ashley said it was unlikely any rain from the system would make it’s way to farming areas.

Port Hedland’s Blackrock Caravan park co-manager Adrian Carter said park residents had been ordered to bunker down.

“There are straps everywhere, even our stuff, we strapped tanks down there all the barrels are strapped down anything that is there is strapped,” he said.

Sandbagging has begun in Port Hedland and extra bags and plastics are being flown up for emergency services.

Veronica looms over the Pilbara coast almost 20 years to the day that Vance, one of the strongest cyclones to hit the Australian mainland, flattened more than 100 homes in Exmouth.

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