Western Australia Faces Cyclone Threat as Floods Strike East

Western Australia’s iron-ore operations face the threat of a severe tropical cyclone crossing the coast early this week, as flooding forced evacuations in towns in the eastern state of New South Wales.

A tropical low off the coast of northwestern Australia will probably become a cyclone later today or tomorrow, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website. There’s a high risk it will cross the Pilbara coast as a severe tropical cyclone on Feb. 26 or Feb. 27, it said.

The Pilbara, the world’s biggest exporting region of iron ore, is home to BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group’s mines and Port Hedland, the world’s biggest bulk export facility. In addition to high winds, cyclones can bring widespread rainfall disrupting mining. The tropical low may become a category 3 cyclone, the bureau said, potentially bringing very destructive winds.

“Widespread very heavy rainfall is expected during Tuesday and Wednesday and is likely to lead to major flooding in the De Grey catchment,” the weather bureau said on its website. “Significant flooding in the Fortescue is also likely.”

Shipping Suspended

Port Hedland is suspending inbound shipping and started anchorage evacuation as the weather system nears the coast as of 2 p.m. local time today, the port authority said in an e-mailed statement. Outbound shipments are continuing for now, it said.

In the east, two people were confirmed dead as a result of flooding caused by a slow-moving low pressure system that has made its way down the coast over the past few days. About 20,000 people have been isolated in the north and mid-north coast of New South Wales, the emergency service said on its website. The weather bureau has issued flood warnings for 15 rivers.

Evacuation orders are in place for several towns, including Kempsey, Port Macquarie and Bellingen on the state’s mid-north coast. Storms also damaged homes and cut electricity in Sydney during the night.

Australia experienced record temperatures that triggered wildfires in southern and eastern states in January. In the same month, New South Wales and Queensland were hit by floods that forced thousands of people to flee their homes and caused millions of dollars in damage.

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