Communities in Western Australia’s mid-west have been urged to evacuate before the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Seroja, which is set to bring gales, heavy rain and storm tides as it reaches land.
Seroja is forecast to make landfall on Sunday afternoon as a category two cyclone, packing destructive winds with gusts of up to 150km/h at its centre as it hits the coast.
The area between Geraldton and Denham is most at risk from the cyclone’s destructive gusts and flooding, the Bureau of Meteorology said in a warning on Saturday night.
“Seroja will be moving fast, so weather conditions will deteriorate rapidly as it approaches,” it said.
Some residents in Denham have already been ordered to evacuate as the cyclone is expected to bring a storm surge – a high tide that will potentially inundate homes in the town.
People who live in the yellow warning zone area between Carnarvon and Kalbarri have been told to go to their nearest evacuation centre or to stay with family or friends. They have been told to pack medicines, clothes, important documents and pet supplies, and place household items high to avoid water damage.
The yellow warning zone does not include the townships of Carnarvon and Kalbarri but is between them.
Those who stay put are advised to organise an emergency kit including first aid supplies, a torch, a portable radio, spare batteries, food and water.
Evacuation centres have been established in Denham, Port Denison and Carnarvon and a free bus service will run on Sunday from Geraldton to Port Denison.
Unusually high tides could cause serious flooding in the Denham and Shark Bay region and near Kalbarri, and minor flooding on the coast between Coral Bay and Lancelin, the bureau says.
“We hope we can get through the next few days without loss of life,” WA’s emergency services minister, Reece Whitby, said on Saturday afternoon.
Unlike the state’s north-west, buildings in the mid-west are not built for cyclones. Whitby said Geraldton, with a population of 37,648, hadn’t seen cyclonic conditions for decades.
The acting Department of Fire and Emergency Services commissioner, Craig Waters, said the winds were dangerous and many buildings within the affected area would not be able to withstand them.
“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.”
Whitby said every government agency was preparing to respond to what could be a “very significant and devastating event”.
“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.
“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 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.