Australian Coal Ports Shut as Storm Dumps Rain on Queensland

Coal export ports on Australia’s eastern coast closed as ex-tropical cyclone Oswald dumped heavy rain on Queensland state and moved south toward New South Wales, prompting emergency services to issue flood warnings.

The weather system will today reach the northeast of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, the Bureau of Meteorology said in an advisory. Heavy rain that may lead to flooding is forecast to hit an area stretching more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the Queensland border to the Lower Hunter region north of Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, the State Emergency Service said on its website.

“We now have a very significant rain event for central and southeast Queensland,” Premier Campbell Newman said at a press conference today. “The situation has deteriorated.”

Queensland was devastated by Cyclone Yasi in February 2011, a storm that killed at least 35 people and contributed to floods throughout Australia’s eastern states that cost the nation’s economy A$9 billion ($9.4 billion) in lost output. Gladstone, 430 kilometers north of Brisbane, went on alert as flood levels along the Boyne River were forecast to breach one-in-100 year heights, according to a government advisory.

A mini-tornedo felled trees and power lines at Bargara near Bundaberg, 385 kilometers north of the state capital, Brisbane.

Storm Stalled

“Nearly 1,000 millimeters (39 inches) of rain has fallen in the Gladstone area over the last few days,” Rob Webb, the Queensland regional director at the Bureau of Meteorology, said at the press conference. “To put that into perspective, the average annual rainfall for Brisbane is around 1.2 meters.”

The storm stalled above the Gladstone area last night and is projected to move toward the southeast of the state today, according to Webb.

Gladstone port and Hay Point, the world’s biggest export harbor for metallurgical coal, suspended ship loading because of the weather, according to port authorities and the Queensland government. Coal prices surged in 2011 as heavy rainfall and flooding inundated mines and crimped production from companies including Rio Tinto Group and Xstrata Plc, the world’s biggest exporter of the commodity used in power stations.

Rescue Teams

Heavy rainfall of about 200 millimeters is forecast to continue in the eastern region in the next few days, the bureau of meteorology said in an e-mailed advisory. Localized falls of more than 300 millimeters may lead to flash flooding in some areas, it said. As many as 2,000 homes may be affected by a possible tidal surge in the Moreton Bay Region, the local council said in an advisory.

Flood rescue teams along with four helicopters have been deployed in New South Wales in preparation for the storm, according to an advisory from emergency services. Flooding has submerged town streets in Queensland, with television images showing water inundating homes.

Operations suspended at Hay Point port are affecting the Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point coal terminals, Tom Hilston, spokesman for state government agency Maritime Safety Queensland, said by phone yesterday. Ship loading was suspended at the RG Tanna and Barney Point coal terminals on Jan. 24, a Gladstone Ports Corp. spokeswoman said in an e-mail yesterday.

Thermal coal at the port of Newcastle in New South Wales, a benchmark price for Asia, surged to $138.50 a metric ton in January 2011 after rainfall and flooding crimped output and shipments. Prices have since declined and were at $91.15 last week, according to data from IHS McCloskey.

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