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WA's Pilbara braces for possible cyclone

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PERTH, Jan 23 AAP

January 23 2013, 12:57AM

A cyclone warning remains in place for Western Australia's Pilbara region, including the major iron ore export hub of Port Hedland.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) estimated around 9am (WST) on Wednesday that a tropical low was 95km west-northwest of Port Hedland and 110km northeast of Karratha, moving west-southwest at 8km/h.

The low lies just to the north of the Pilbara coast between Karratha and Port Hedland and may develop into a tropical cyclone, which would be named Peta, BoM spokesman Neil Bennett said.

If the system reaches cyclone intensity, gales with wind gusts to 100km/h could develop between Port Hedland and Mardie during the day, and possibly extend west towards Onslow in the evening.

In terms of intensity, Mr Bennett said the tropical low was likely to become only a category one cyclone.

"It's done one or two small loops and took a more northerly track for a little while but has gone back down south again and is now making track towards the coast, crossing likely east of Karratha," he said.

"As it makes landfall and then starts to weaken, the latest model outputs and track maps are suggesting it will later go back over the ocean, but we're not anticipating that it's going to intensify any further.

"Probably tomorrow evening when it recrosses, it doesn't look as if it will re-form. It will just be a tropical low when it does that."

Mr Bennett said the tropical low had brought more than 80mm of rainfall to Port Hedland so far and falls of more than 100mm were likely along the coastal fringe.

The rain should extend from the Pilbara toward the Gascoyne region, he said.

"In some respects, it's good news for central parts of the Pilbara where they hang out for these systems to give them their rainfall," Mr Bennett said.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services says a blue alert remains for people in or near Port Hedland and Mardie, including Whim Creek, Roebourne, Wickham, Point Samson, Karratha and Dampier.

This means there's no immediate danger, but preparations for dangerous weather must be made.

Several ports in the region were closed on Wednesday as a precaution.