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Evacuations as tropical cyclone nears Western Australia

The system is west of the town of Broome (Pic: Australia's Bureau of Meteorology)
The system is west of the town of Broome (Pic: Australia's Bureau of Meteorology)

A severe tropical cyclone is nearing Western Australia, triggering evacuations as authorities warned violent winds could toss caravans, tear down trees and turn debris into "missiles".

Tropical Cyclone Ilsa gathered strength over the Indian Ocean, with one of the world's major iron ore shipping hubs - Port Hedland - cleared of vessels in preparation.

Forecasters predict the category five storm could bring gusts of up to 270km/h, making it one of the most powerful cyclones to hit the state in a decade.

The storm is expected to make landfall on Thursday evening or Friday morning local time, landing somewhere between the coastal towns of Broome and Port Hedland - about 17 hours' drive north of the state capital Perth.

It is forecast to then move inland, with weather warnings in place for a vast but sparsely-populated expanse stretching some 1,000km from the coast into the desert Outback.

The region is home to iron ore mines, gold mines, sprawling cattle ranches and a number of Aboriginal communities.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the winds would be strong enough to tear down trees and power lines, and could launch "caravans" and "trampolines".

Flash flooding was also a risk, the weather bureau said.

The state's Department of Fire and Emergency Services said it "cannot stress enough how extreme these conditions will be for those in the area".

Peter Carter, Mayor of Port Hedland, said the destructive winds could turn flying pieces of debris into "missiles in the air".

"That's what causes all the damage, that is what injures people," he told national broadcaster ABC.

"Everyone is on edge," he added.

A yellow alert, which orders residents to be ready to shelter from a cyclone, was issued for several remote towns.

Some shelves in supermarkets have been stripped bare, local media reported, with essential supplies such as bottled water, fruit and meat in huge demand.

Australian researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change amplifies the risk of natural disasters such as bushfires, floods and cyclones.

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