Cyclone Lua Batters Western Australian Mining Region

Tropical Cyclone Lua, a Category 4 storm, battered Australia’s northwestern coast in the Pilbara mining region with winds of around 250 kilometers an hour (155 miles an hour).

“The bad part of the storm has moved over the coast already,” James Ashley, a forecaster in the Bureau of Meteorology’s cyclone warning center in Perth, said in a phone interview today.

The port of Dampier, used by Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second-biggest shipper of iron ore, is shutting down in anticipation of large swells, according to Gervase Greene, a spokesman for the company. London-based Rio Tinto has secured its Dampier Salt operations while iron ore mining further inland is continuing, he said yesterday. Greene said in an e-mail today the company didn’t have anything to add.

Port Hedland, the world’s biggest iron ore port used by BHP Billiton Ltd. and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd., shut down in anticipation of the storm on March 15.

Lua is the second strongest storm on the cyclone scale, which runs from one to five. The eye of the storm would cross over Pardoo Station, Ashley said. Pardoo Station is a remote and sparsely populated site about 120 kilometers north of Port Hedland.

Seek Shelter

A red alert, the highest warning, has been issued to people in or near the coastal communities between Bidyadanga to DeGrey in the Kimberley and Pilbara, the Fire & Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia said in an e-mailed statement. Residents are advised to seek shelter “immediately” because the storm poses a threat to lives and homes, the statement said.

“Gales are occurring in coastal areas east of Port Hedland, extending to Bidyadanga and south to inland areas near Marble Bar,” the FESA said. “Destructive winds to 150 kilometres per hour are possible east of Port Hedland to Wallal and across the inland eastern Pilbara.”

Tides are likely to rise significantly with damaging waves and dangerous flooding, the emergency authority said.

The Great Northern Highway and North West Coastal Highway around Port Hedland have been closed and motorists face fines for using their vehicles during a red alert, the authority said.

The cyclone has prompted Woodside Petroleum Ltd., Apache Corp. and Santos Ltd. to shut output at offshore fields that account for more than one-quarter of Australia’s oil output.

Chevron Corp. evacuated workers from Barrow Island where it’s building the $37 billion Gorgon liquefied natural gas project and the Wheatstone LNG venture, the San Ramon, California-based company said in an e-mailed statement March 15.

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