Couple sheltering from WA cyclone

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 31/12/2013
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RED ALERT: Pete Fitzgerald and Ellie Cooper of Nelson have been battered by Cyclone Christine in Western Australia.

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Nelson couple Ellie Cooper and Pete Fitzgerald have been in lockdown overnight in the Western Australian hotel Cooper helps to manage as Cyclone Christine crashed into the coast late last night.

The tropical cyclone, which emerged as a threat several days ago, struck near Port Hedland overnight in spectacular style, but there have so far been no reports of damage or injury.

However, the storm had intensified this morning as it veered further south. At 9am today, which was 4am there, the cyclone had moved down the coast with Roebourne taking the brunt of it, Cooper said.

"She's really scary now. The waves are coming up and it's blowing so hard," Cooper said at the height of the storm in Port Hedland around midnight last night.

Cooper who is helping to run the Accor Group's Ibis Styles hotel in Port Hedland, said last night people were on edge, particularly those who had never before experienced a cyclone.

Port Hedland is the biggest ore-export terminal in the world and is 1300 kilometres north of Perth.

The cyclone was seen as threat to towns and production of oil and gas, and was late yesterday predicted to make landfall between Karratha and Port Hedland on the Pilbara coast. Affected areas were preparing for winds of around 200 kilometres an hour near the eye of the storm.

Cooper and her fiance, Mr Fitzgerald who is working in the mines in the area, have been in lockdown with other staff in a designated area of the hotel since early yesterday morning.

They have been in a safe area within the hotel's main building, in one of the function rooms.

"All the staff are dotted around the room on airbeds in this function room," Cooper said.

Hotel guests had been supplied with food packs and torches, and managers were regularly checking on them.

She said they were put on standby on Saturday when a "blue alert" was called, and maintenance staff and managers began securing everything outside the hotel.

"All tables, chairs, and barbecues were brought inside, then on Sunday we went on yellow alert at 6pm which meant we had to close the restaurant and pub immediately," she said. "All inside furniture was pulled away from the windows and all the gas in the kitchen had to be turned off."

Cooper said everyone went back to their rooms for the night, preparing for notice of a red alert, which meant they had to take shelter immediately.

The hotel's general manager banged on their door at 7am yesterday, instructing them that the area was about to go into red alert.

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"We then had to take our things - a change of clothes, toiletries, laptop and bedding, and went over to the main building of the hotel where we went into lockdown in one of our function rooms," Cooper said.

There was access to bathrooms and a kitchen and the sports bar was made into a games room.

"The general manager's phone rang every five minutes so we could keep in touch with head office in Perth. The hotel in Karratha, which was also getting a pounding, and the police, kept us updated as to what was happening."

Cooper said they lost all power within the first hour of being on red alert when a palm tree fell on power lines, but it was restored within 20 minutes.

By 9pm yesterday, New Zealand time, which was 4pm in Western Australia, Ms Cooper said it was "really blowing" and there was a lot of noise outside.

"Everyone seems fine. The ones who haven't been through a cyclone before are a little more nervous but it's only a category three.

"When we first moved over here we had Cyclone Rusty which was a category five cyclone. We were in lockdown a little over three days."

Cooper said her update at 6.30am today, NZ time, revealed there was concern over the high tides combined with a storm surge.

"Karratha is now taking a hammering with wind gusts around 180kmh. "It's still pretty friggin' windy outside and it's going to be interesting seeing what damage there is."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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