Cyclone to Form Off Australia as Port Hedland Evacuates

A storm off Australia’s northwest coast may develop into a cyclone today, prompting evacuation of Port Hedland, the world’s biggest iron ore export terminal.

A tropical low northwest of Broome in Western Australia may strengthen into a category one storm as it moves southwest and roughly parallel to the coast, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website. Evacuation of 29 vessels in Port Hedland’s inner and outer anchorage areas commenced at 6 a.m. local time and evacuation of 12 ships in the inner harbor began at about noon, the Port Hedland Port Authority said in a statement. The final vessel is expected to leave the shipping channel by 3 a.m. tomorrow, it said.

“If the system continues to develop as expected a severe tropical cyclone impact on the Pilbara is likely on Monday or Tuesday,” the weather bureau said.

Port Hedland exports iron ore from mines owned by BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. Rio Tinto Group ships ore from Dampier and Cape Lambert, which are also located in the region. Australia is the world’s largest iron ore exporter.

BHP “continues to closely monitor the situation as the tropical low approaches the Pilbara coast,” the company said in an e-mailed statement today. “Preparations to secure our port and rail infrastructure have commenced.”

The storm is forecast to develop into a category one cyclone by 5 p.m. local time, according to the weather bureau, and strengthen into a category three storm by Dec. 30 before crossing the coast near the town of Karratha, 1,250 kilometers (780 miles) north of Perth.