Pilbara cyclone upgraded to category 3 and still strengthening

Severe tropical cyclone Rusty is continuing to intensify as it closes in on the Pilbara coast.

Yesterday buildings were being boarded up, flights were cancelled and people evacuated as the Pilbara and Kimberley regions battened down the hatches, waiting to feel Rusty’s wrath.

The rather "slow-moving and erratic" cyclone, which has been gathering power off the coast, was yesterday upgraded to a category three system and is forecasted to reach category four today.

Residents have been warned to expect extensive flooding, winds of up to 200km/hr, big swells, and high tides.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the expected landfall crossing time and location remains uncertain.

Port Hedland locals yesterday set to work sandbagging shopfronts and stocking up on essentials.

O’Donnell Griffin rail contractor Ash Edelman told Australian Mining the company's Mooka campsite had been put onto yellow alert and employees have been told Rusty could be “a once in a life time storm”.

Yellow alert was declared at 6pm last night and the airport was shut at 9pm with all commercial flights in and out of Port Hedland cancelled.

Pardoo is tipped to be the most likely epicentre for TC Rusty but some models also indicate it could track just west of Port Hedland, moving inland late today or early Thursday.

The weather bureau said Rusty’s slow pace will significantly add to the system’s strength and there are concerns about a dangerous storm tide, water is likely to rise “significantly above the normal high tide mark with damaging waves and very dangerous coastal inundation”.

Leader of the Kimberley emergency services Matt Reimer said TC Rusty was "chillingly similar" to the path tropical cyclone Rosita took when it hit Broome in 2000, The West reported.

Already this weather system has battered Broome with 125mm of rain in two days.

Most of the region's major mining companies evacuated employees yesterday and Port Hedland, Dampier and Cape Lambert ports have been closed in preparation for the storm.

Coming in behind Rusty is another potential cyclone. The bureau said there is a strong possibility it would develop into a tropical cyclone by 2pm today, if so it will be named Sandra.

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