Hundreds of people in Western Australia's Pilbara have taken shelter in evacuation centres as Cyclone Rusty continues on its path towards the coast.

Port Hedland has already recorded wind gusts of up to 120 kilometres-per-hour, with the cyclone expected to make landfall tonight.

The Bureau of Meteorology is warning that the category three system could be a category four by the time it crosses the coast.

Rainfalls of up to 600 millimetres in 24 hours are expected and a red alert is in place for communities between Pardoo and Whim Creek, including Port Hedland and South Hedland.


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The Bureau of Meteorology's Neil Bennett says the system is moving slowly, but it is expected to pack a punch.

"These are severe tropical cyclones. These are very, very powerful systems and even though many residents in the Pilbara have been through a number of tropical cyclones, they still bring with them an element of risk and they just can't be underestimated," he said.

Mr Bennett says the wind and rain will become more intense today.

"We're expecting that during [today] we could see wind gusts in excess of 160 kilometres-per-hour," he said.

"[This] evening, we could see some gusts getting up to nearly 250 kilometres per hour.

"So, it's a big big system. Some rainfall totals may be as much as 600 millimetres in a 24-hour period."

Bureau regional director Mike Bergin says Port Hedland will experience Perth's entire winter rainfall in just three days.

"It's going to be a long, protracted and quite dangerous experience," he said.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) is advising people to remain in the strongest part of their house, making sure they have food and water.

"There'll be buildings that may be damaged, there may be loose tin, flying objects," spokesman Phil Cribb said.

"Power may be down and there may be airborne hazards from asbestos or septics and those sorts of things.

"It's about listening and being vigilant to make sure that if something does happen, they're ready to act."

Power warning

Horizon Power says electricity has been restored to thousands of homes in the north-west of the state, but more than 200 are still without power and could be for some time.

Horizon's Roman Raudonikis says that number could rise again as the storm moves closer.

"We're certainly concerned with the overhead network which we're slowly replacing with underground power," he said.

"There's always the risk of trees breaking and falling on lines or lines clashing, that's been the problem that we've had so far."

Emergency authorities say the South Hedland stadium, which is being used as an evacuation centre, is at capacity.

Mining giants Fortescue Metals and Atlas Iron have both locked down all operations in Port Hedland, with all work suspended.

The Port handles a fifth of all sea-borne iron ore, and the cyclone has halted the loading of millions of tonnes of the commodity.

Rio Tinto says it has stopped ship loading at nearby Dampier and Cape Lambert, but all other operations including rail and stockpiling are continuing.

Eight schools in Hedland are closed until further notice, including Hedland Senior High School and Port and South Hedland primary schools.

The Yandi Yarra Remote Community School and Marble Bar and Nullagine primary schools have been closed due to a risk of flooding.