By Renju Jose
SYDNEY, April 13 (Reuters) – Australia’s northwest region, home to the world’s largest iron ore export hub, braced on Thursday for the area’s most powerful tropical cyclone in a decade, as a major port closed and residents rushed to stock up on essential supplies.
Cyclone Ilsa, located about 155 km off (96 miles) Australia’s coast in the Indian Ocean, was on Thursday afternoon upgraded to a category five storm, the highest rating.
The storm is expected to make landfall late on Thursday or early on Friday with winds of up to 315 km per hour (196 mph) at its core, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
“They’ve got a lot of strength in them, the ability to not only destroy trees and knock down power lines but lift up those loose items in the yard, including trailers and caravans,” meteorologist Miriam Bradbury told ABC television.
The weather bureau said in its latest update that Ilsa could impact a 600 km sparsely populated stretch from just north of Port Hedland eastwards to just south of tourist town Broome.
Port Hedland’s port, the world’s biggest iron ore export point, closed on Thursday morning after the port authority began clearing berths a day earlier.
The port is used by BHP Group, Fortescue and billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting. Rio Tinto exports out of the Port of Dampier, to the west of Port Hedland.
The weather bureau issued a Red Alert for Port Hedland on Thursday afternoon, where wind gusts up to 155 kph are expected.
Its 15,000 residents, most of whom are mining company employees, were advised to seek shelter indoors away from doors and windows.
It will be the strongest system to hit the country’s far northwest region since Cyclone Christine crossed the coast in December 2013, weather bureau forecaster Jessica Lingard said.
BHP said it was closely tracking the cyclone but its mining and rail operations were continuing.
A Fortescue spokesperson said it had suspended shipping operations and non-essential travel to the port but it did not expect any significant impact to operations at this stage.
Many of the region’s mines are located hundreds of km inland.
Some shelves in supermarkets have been stripped bare, local media reported, with essential supplies like bottled water, fruit and meat in huge demand.
The storm is expected to weaken below tropical cyclone strength over Friday night as it moves inland.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Tom Hogue, Jamie Freed and Kim Coghill)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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