Australia’s most powerful tropical cyclone in eight years lashed the country’s sparsely populated north-west coast with winds gusting to 180 mph on Friday, but was weakening fast and no injuries were reported.
Cyclone Ilsa crossed the Pilbara coast of Western Australia state as the most severe Category 5 storm, but weakened to a 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 between the iron ore export town of Port Hedland and Wallal Downs, a 780 square mile cattle station to the northeast.
The remote Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern, 93 miles northeast of Port Hedland, had extensive damage, Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent Peter Sutton said.
But his department had received no calls for assistance. “It appears the larger populated areas have really escaped the damage,” Mr Sutton said.
Peter McCarthy, also a Department of Fire and Emergency Services superintendent, said the roadhouse was in the direct path of the storm. The two owners had remained there overnight and were safe, he said.
“They’ve had a pretty uncomfortable, challenging night and we’re going to get crews out there first thing this morning to check on them,” McCarthy told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Government meteorologist Dean Narramore described Ilsa as a “very intense and dangerous system” and said inland communities could be isolated by flooding.
Port Hedland mayor Peter Carter said dozens of people stayed in an evacuation centre overnight but most of the city’s 16,000 residents stayed in their homes, which were built to withstand cyclones.
“The infrastructure is designed for cyclones, but flying debris, that’s what does all of the damage,” Mr Carter told ABC.
Category 5 cyclones have mean wind speeds exceeding 124 mph with gusts exceeding 174 mph.
The last Category 5 storm to cross the Australian coast was Cyclone Marcia in 2015. Marcia caused hundreds of millions of pounds in damage in the east coast state of Queensland.
Category 3 systems have maximum mean wind speeds of 73 mph to 99 mph with gusts between 103 mph and 139 mph.
The storm will continue to weaken as its tracks southeast across land, the weather bureau said.