SYDNEY Jan 11 A cyclone approaching Australia's
northwest coast that forced miners to shut down key iron ore
export terminals and offshore oilfields has intensified into a
category four storm, the second-highest level, and will
strengthen over the weekend.
The Bureau of Meteorology said wind gusts of 100 kilometres
per hour (62 miles per hour) are expected to develop along the
coastline on Friday, before strengthening to as much as 250
kilometres per hour (155 miles per hour) near the cyclone's
centre over the weekend.
Cyclone Narelle is not expected to make landfall in Western
Australia, but authorities warned residents in coastal towns it
will still be extremely dangerous.
The first cyclone of the Australian season was some 515 km
(320 miles) offshore of the coastal town of Karratha, an oil and
mining services hub used by Woodside Petroleum, Apache
Corp, CITIC Pacific, Rio Tinto, Shell
Woodside, Apache and BHP Billiton are
disconnecting oil production vessels from offshore fields that
contribute about a third of Australia's oil production of
390,000 barrels per day, sources with direct knowledge of the
Rio Tinto , the world's second-largest iron
ore producer, has suspended ship loading at the ports of Dampier
and Cape Lambert.
Further along the coast, Port Hedland is used by BHP
Billiton, Fortescue and Atlas Iron to ship
hundreds of millions of tonnes of ore annually.
Companies including Chevron Energy, which uses
Karratha as a base for the $27 billion North West Shelf LNG
project, are preparing to evacuate staff if the cyclone suddenly
changes direction and speed, which is a common occurrence with
such storms in the Pilbara iron belt.
Qantas Airways has scheduled extra flights to
evacuate workers from drilling platforms and mining sites if
There are on average around seven cyclones a year in Western
Australia between December and April.
Last March, Cyclone Lua halted output of about a quarter of
Australia's daily oil production of 390,000 barrels as companies
were forced to suspend offshore drilling and evacuate staff.
Wind speeds are calculated using a system categorising a
cyclone's intensity on a scale of one to five.