Cyclone damages towns, cuts power to thousands

PERTH, AUSTRALIA (AP) — A destructive cyclone has damaged several towns on Australia’s western coast, shattering windows, snapping trees and knocking out power. There have been no reports of serious injuries.

Tropical Cyclone Seroja crossed the Western Australia state coast south of the tourist town of Kalbarri with winds gusting up to 170 kilometres-per-hour (km/h) shortly after dark on Sunday, officials said yesterday.

Around 70 per cent of buildings in Kalbarri, a town of 1,400 people 580 kilometres north of the state capital Perth, had been damaged, Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said.

About 30 per cent of that damage was “significant” Klemm said.Other coastal towns sustained less damage. Government utility Western Power reported 31,500 customers had lost power.

Such powerful cyclones are rare in subtropical Australia. Wind gusts recorded in Kalbarri and nearby areas were likely to have been the “strongest in more than 50 years,” Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.

The last comparable cyclone in the region struck in 1956. It brought 140 km/h gusts to the town of Geraldton, 160 kilometres south of Kalbarri, where there was no weather station at the time.

The satellite image released by NASA shows Tropical Cyclone Seroja hitting the coast of Western Australia. PHOTO: AP

Cyclone Seroja caused flooding and landslides that killed at least 174 people and left 48 missing in Indonesia and East Timor last week. The damage was worse in some parts of Kalbarri than others, but the whole town had been impacted, local State Emergency Service manager Steve Cable said.

Powerlines and trees were toppled, homes lost roofs and streets were strewn with debris. “Some of the older buildings didn’t stand up very well. But even some of the modern buildings, they just couldn’t hold it,” Cable said. “Large trees with quite substantial limbs just snapped off like carrots.” Debbie Major weathered the storm in a room of a Kalbarri tourist trailer park that she manages, clutching a door to prevent it blowing open as broken tree limbs shattered windows.

“I’ve never experienced anything in my life that we experienced last night,” Major said. “It was terrifying.”

Cyclone Seroja lost power and was downgraded to a tropical low before blowing out to sea near Esperance yesterday.