Powerful Cyclone Ilsa lashes Australia’s northwest coast

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – A powerful tropical cyclone lashed Australia’s sparsely populated northwest coast on Friday, with winds gusting at 289 kilometers (180 miles) per hour with no immediate reports of injury, authorities said.

Cyclone Ilsa crossed the Pilbara coast of Western Australia state as the most severe Category 5 storm, but it quickly slowed to a Category 3 system as it moved inland, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said.

Category 5 cyclones have meant wind speeds exceeding 200 kph (124 mph) with gusts exceeding 280 kph (174 mph). They typically cause widespread destruction.

The last Category 5 storm to cross the Australian coast was Cyclone Marcia in 2015. Marcia caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in the east coast state of Queensland.

Damage was still being assessed in the path of Ilsa, which made landfall in the early hours of Friday along a 220-kilometer (137-mile) span between the iron ore export town of Port Hedland and Wallal Downs Station, a 200,000-hectare (500,000-acre) cattle ranch to the northeast.

The remote Pardoo Roadhouse and Tavern, 150 km (93 miles) northeast of Port Hedland, had sustained “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,” Sutton told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Government meteorologist Dean Narramore described Ilsa as a “very intense and dangerous system.” Wind gusts in its path were recorded as fast as 289 kph (180 mph) at Bedout Island, Narramore said. Inland communities could be isolated by flooding, he said.

Port Hedland Mayor Peter Carter said dozens of people attended an evacuation center 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,” Carter told ABC.

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