SYDNEY, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Tropical cyclone Heidi hit the west Australian coast early on Thursday packing winds up to 120 kilometres per hour, forcing seaside residents to flee rising tidewaters and closing the world’s biggest iron ore export terminals.
“We’re certainly feeling the brunt of Cyclone Heidi as she crosses the coast,” Kelly Howlett, mayor of the town of Port Hedland told local media.
“She’s certainly packing a little punch at the moment,” Howlett said.
Heidi made landfall around 4.30 am local time (2030 GMT), according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The bureau said winds of up to 130 kilometres per hour had been whipping along the coast overnight, warning gusts of up to 150 kilometres per hour were possible.
Up to 250 millimetres (9.8 inches) of rain was also possible across central and eastern parts of the Pilbara iron belt, where most of Australia’s iron ore mining occurs, it said.
A dangerous storm tide was also predicted for coastal areas and residents near the coast were warned to seek emergency shelter further inland.
Ports serving the enormous iron ore mines of northwest Australia began closing on Tuesday night as the storm swept across the Indian Ocean toward a stretch of coast where nearly two-thirds of the world’s seaborne-traded iron ore is shipped.
Port Hedland, the region’s largest iron ore port, exporting around 240 million tonnes of the steel-making commodity a year, has been closed to traffic until the storm passes.
Australia’s second and third biggest iron ore miners, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group, both export through Port Hedland.
Australia’s biggest iron ore miner and the world’s second-largest, Rio Tinto, also halted all loading at Dampier and Cape Lambert ports, 250 kms south of Port Hedland.
Rio Tinto ships around 225 millions tonnes a year from these two ports.
Fortescue exports about 55 million tonnes a year and BHP Billiton ships around 155 million tonnes from the Pilbara, which employs around 40,000 in the mining industry.
Australia’s largest oil and gas firm, Woodside Petroleum , also took precautions against the storm by shutting production from several offshore fields.
Heidi is rated a category two cyclone, the second lowest ranking on a scale of one to five and meteorologists expect Heidi to start to weaken over the next few hours as more of the storm crosses land.
Tropical cyclones and temporary shutdowns are a normal part of Australian summers, but an especially stormy season can have major impacts, such as when cyclones and flooding swamped the coal-mining industry in the country’s northeast a year ago.
The bureau warned in October the northwestern region was facing a 65 percent chance of being hit by more than seven cyclones during the November to April tropical storm season.