TROPICAL Cyclone Lua has been upgraded to category 4 as communities take shelter along Western Australia's northwest coast following the issue of a red alert.
Lua is expected to make landfall some time this afternoon, bringing with it potentially devastating wind gusts of up to 230km/h along with heavy rain, flooding and a dangerous storm tide.
A bulletin issued by WA's Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) at 5.45am (WST) today said a red alert was in place for coastal communities between Wallal and Port Hedland, including 80 Mile Beach, Sandfire, Pardoo and South Hedland in the Pilbara and Kimberley.
People have been told to take shelter immediately and warned that heavy fines apply if they use their vehicles.
Flights into the region have been cancelled and the main highway has been closed between Broome and Port Hedland, where the port has also been shut down and vessels sent to safe waters.
Resource companies in the region have shut down or limited their operations, with many sites maintaining essential staff only.
Relocation centres have been set up in Port Hedland, South Hedland and Marble Bar.
Residents have been told to move to the strongest part of their house, have emergency kits ready and stay clear of windows.
A lower level yellow alert is in place for the coastal and inland communities between Broome and Whim Creek, including Bidyadanga, Warralong, Yande Yarra, Marble Bar and adjacent pastoral and mining leases.
Those communities have been told to get ready to shelter.
A lower blue alert is current for people in or near the coastal and inland communities between Whim Creek and Dampier including Karratha, Dampier, Roebourne, Wickham and Point Samson as well as inland communities, including Telfer, Nullagine, Newman and Jigalong.
At 5am (WST) today Lua was about 260km north northwest of Port Hedland and moving southeast at 19km/h. It was intensifying as it approached the Pilbara coast.
The Bureau of Meteorology said gales were expected to develop early on Saturday morning in coastal areas between Whim Creek and Bidyadanga, including Port Hedland, extending during the morning to adjacent inland areas and north to Cape Leveque including Broome, and possibly west to Dampier.
It said destructive winds up to 160km/h were possible between Port Hedland and Bidyadanga and very destructive winds up to 230km/h were forecast near Lua's centre.
Destructive winds were expected to extend to the inland eastern Pilbara later today.
Residents of Port Hedland and east to Bidyadanga are specifically warned of a very dangerous storm tide expected as the cyclone centre approaches the coast.