Residents of Geraldton in Western Australia’s mid-west have been warned to brace for destructive cyclonic winds of a kind not seen in the area for decades.
Two cyclones were bearing down on the state’s mid-west and north-west coast on Saturday afternoon.
The first, tropical Cyclone Odette, was downgraded from cyclone strength on Saturday morning but was still expected to bring strong winds to the Exmouth region and parts of the Gascoyne coast. Cyclones are more common in the far north-west and buildings are designed to withstand such events.
But authorities say Odette is likely be absorbed by the second cyclone, Cyclone Seroja, which is causing authorities the most concern.
It was expected to make landfall much further south on Sunday or early Monday, between Carnarvon and Jurien Bay, which sit to the north and south of Geraldton respectively.
Geraldton, with a population of 37,648, is not built to withstand cyclones and residents are not used to dealing with such extreme weather events, authorities said.
Cyclones have not been seen in the region for “many decades”.
Cyclone Seroja was expected to bring destructive winds of up to 150km/h and intense rainfall.
Winds of such strength could cause minor house damage, and significant damage to trees and powerlines.
The destructive winds were expected to be felt on the coast between Geraldton and Denham.
The cyclone was forecast to move quickly, up to 50km/h, as it makes landfall. That means conditions will deteriorate quickly and be unpredictable.
Authorities say high tides threaten to cause inundation of coastal paths between Coral Bay and Lancelin, which might lead to serious flooding at Denham and Shark Bay.
Anyone on an island between Coral Bay and Geraldton, including the Abrolhos Islands, must evacuate by midday, the Department of Fire and Emergency services ordered on Saturday morning. Anyone at sea must leave by 6pm.
If evacuating isn’t an option they must take shelter or seek safe haven or anchorage.
Acting DFES commissioner Craig Waters said the winds were dangerous and that many buildings within the affected area would not be able to withstand the cyclone.
“The construction of the buildings within the impacted area, they’re not designed to withstand these type of events, especially cyclones,” Waters said on Saturday afternoon. “So we’re asking members of the community if you’re not fully prepared, then you need to leave now. Leave to a safer location.
“Members of the public that are travelling through the area, if you are residing in a tent or caravan, you must leave now to a safe location.”
The WA emergency services minister, Reece Whitby, described the situation as “very serious”. Cyclone threats had not been seen in Geraldton for decades, he said.
“So we have a community that’s not used to cyclones, like our communities in the north-west are,” he said. “We have properties that aren’t built to withstand cyclones, like communities in the north-west are.
“The potential for widespread devastation is high … we hope that we can get through these next few days without loss of life and without serious property damage.”
Waters said there were numerous holiday-makers in the impact areas, many of whom would not have experienced a cyclone before.
“Recent rainfall and flooding has already battered the northern half of WA during the current cyclone season,” he said. “If you’re in a tent or caravan, you are simply not protected against the damaging winds that may hit the region.”
Emergency workers say those in affected areas should shelter away from trees, powerlines and storm water drains.
They should also close their curtains, stay away from windows, unplug electrical appliances and make their own sandbags.
Waters said some roads in the area were still undergoing maintenance to repair damage from recent flooding, and further damage could make roads unpassable for days, or longer.
An evacuation centre has been set up at the Irwin Recreation Centre at Port Denison, to Geraldton’s south, which can cope with 1,000 people sleeping and 2,000 standing.