Cyclone Rusty could have a 100-kilometre wide eye and boast winds of more than 200km/h by the time its full force is felt on WA's North West coastline late on Wednesday.
At 8pm Tuesday, Rusty was sitting near stationary off the Pilbara coast - 125 kilometres north-north-east of Port Hedland and 285 kilometres north-east of Karratha.
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Rusty closes in
Civilian footage shows Cyclone Rusty closing in on Port Hedland.
With Port Hedland residents on red alert (meaning they should not leave shelter until notified) since Tuesday morning, the Deparment of Fire and Emergency Service's John Franklin said the danger posed by the cyclone was very real.
"It [Rusty] is 90 to 100 kilometres in width in its eye so it's quite a significant cyclone," Mr Franklin said.
"We're very mindful that once it arrives people should be prepared for the very worst."
The Bureau of Meteorology's 8pm advice predicted Rusty, upgraded to as a category four system, would continue its progress southward towards the Pilbara coast on Wednesday.
Port Hedland has already experience 120km/h wind gusts but those gusts are expected to increase to more than 165km/h in coastal parts between Whim Creek and Pardoo during Wednesday.
"It feels as if most of the locals think tomorrow night will be one of the scariest things they've ever lived through," Channel Seven reporter Grant Taylor told Radio 6PR on Tuesday afternoon.
"It looks like it's going to be a direct hit of a category four cyclone right on top of Port Hedland sometime (Wednesday) night."
Brent Rudler, who runs liquor stores in South Hedland and Port Hedland, said wind gusts were already wreaking havoc with services such as electricity.
"For the last 12 to 14 hours there have been 120km/h gusts of wind," Mr Rudler told 6PR.
On Monday, Mr Rudler told 6PR that you couldn't buy bottled water in Port Hedland for "any money" and that some long-time residents were leaving town because they "had a funny feeling" about cyclone Rusty.
We are talking Noah's Ark here, we really are talking phenomenal amounts of rainfall.
While Port Hedland and South Hedland residents had been urged to leave their homes immediately, the shire's deputy mayor, George Daccache, was spending Tuesday in his security screen-clad home.
A Port Hedland resident of 40 years, Mr Daccache has seen his fair share of wet season wild weather, but expected this cyclone will be one of the worst the town had ever seen.
"This one's a bit of a beauty," Mr Daccache said.
With residents heeding warnings to stay safe, the streets were empty on Tuesday, as were supermarket shelves after a rush to prepare for Rusty's arrival.
"It's going to be a pain waiting for two to three days for this to come and go," Mr Daccache said.
"We've just to hang in there hour by hour, and batten down the hatches."
Mr Daccache said he was most concerned about an expected storm tide, which threatened to inundate the lower-lying western part of the town.
Many homes had lost power, but most residents were staying at emergency shelters at the Andrew McLaughlin Community Centre and the Wanangkura Recreation Centre, he said.
More than 300 people had reportedly taken up refuge in the emergency shelters by Tuesday night.
Heavy rain is likely to lead to major flooding in the De Grey catchment, while significant flooding is expected in the Fortescue catchment and in Pilbara coastal streams.
Port Hedland's airport was shut at 9pm on Monday and all commercial flights cancelled. The port is also in shutdown, possibly for the rest of the week.
Eleven schools have been closed.
Images from NASA's Terra satellite show Rusty is developing an eye 20 nautical miles wide.
The Kimberley town of Broome has been given the all-clear, but a flood warning has been issued for the Dampier Peninsular, including Cape Leveque.
More than 830 millimetres of rain was dumped on the Cocos Islands in the three days to Monday - eclipsing the amount that fell in metropolitan Perth in 2012 by more than 200 millimetres.
"We are talking Noah's Ark here, we really are talking phenomenal amounts of rainfall," Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Andrew Burton said.
"We are seeing totals already up around the 100 to 150 millimetres per day up the coast. I think that's going to pale into insignificance compared to what we'll see over the next couple days."
Cyclone Rusty has all but brought the Pilbara's mining and resources industry to a halt.
Mining giant Rio Tinto prepared for the storm by closing the Port Walcott port at Cape Lambert and was finishing up ship-loading at its Dampier ports.
Virgin cancelled flights from Perth to Broome on Monday and Port Hedland and Dampier ports were closed and all vessels sent out to sea on Monday in preparation for Rusty's arrival.
The following community alerts have been put in place by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services:
RED ALERT: People in or near communities between Pardoo and Whim Creek, including Port Hedland and South Hedland need to go to shelter immediately.
YELLOW ALERT: People in communities between Wallal and Pardoo, extending inland to Marble Bar need to take action and get ready to shelter from a cyclone.
BLUE ALERT: People in communities between Bidyadanga and Wallal and between Whim Creek and Mardie, including Karratha and extending to inland areas including Nullagine and Millstream, need to prepare for cyclonic weather and organise an emergency kit including first aid kit, torch, portable radio, spare batteries, food and water.
WHAT TO DO:
DFES's State Emergency Service advises you to:
• Take your emergency and relocation kits with you.
• Turn off electricity, gas and water, and unplug all appliances.
• Lock doors and windows.
• Make sure your neighbours have received this warning.
• Move immediately to your closest welfare centre at Andrew McLaughlin Community Centre in Keesing Street in Port Hedland.
• Ensure pets and animals are in a safe area as they cannot be taken to a relocation point.
The Department for Child Protection advises that the Andrew McLaughlin Community Centre in Keesing Street in Port Hedland has been opened and offering safe shelter for people who may be forced to leave their homes as a result of the cyclone.
• For SES assistance call 132 500
• In a life threatening situation call 000
• For the latest weather information call 1300 659 210 or visit www.bom.gov.au
• For information about road conditions and closures contact local Police or Main Roads WA on 138 138.
KEEP UP TO DATE:
Call 1300 657 209, visit www.dfes.wa.gov.au or listen to news bulletins.
- with AAP