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Cyclone Hits Australia's West Coast


Communities on Australia's north-west coast were battered on Friday by a severe tropical cyclone which reportedly killed one and tore roofs from homes with destructive winds and heavy flooding.

Cyclone George hit the west Australia coast near the remote iron ore exporting terminal at Port Hedland overnight with 275 kph (170 mph) winds, uprooting trees and power lines.

Western Australia state police said one still unidentified person was believed to have been killed at a mining camp 100 km (62 miles) south of the town, with the death reported by paramedics. Damage reports were still coming in.

The mining camp had taken a direct hit from the cyclone, said Western Australia fire and emergency services spokesman Allen Gale. At least one person was believed dead and many injured in the camp where people live in transportable homes. "We're expecting multiples...five 10, 15 injuries," Gale told Australian television.

Residents in Port Hedland, were sheltering as the category four cyclone -- just one step short of the maximum level five -- continued to buffet the town with destructive winds. "We honestly just heard these sounds like roofs or tin flying everywhere," Port Hedland resident Peta McHardy told local radio.

A second storm tropical cyclone Jacob was also heading towards Western Australia, but it was still far off the coast, south of Australia's remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

"At this stage we ask residents to stay inside until it's all clear," State Emergency Service Port Hedland manager Derek Jones told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio. The Bureau of Meteorology said winds would likely ease through the day as cyclone George moved inland.

Cyclones are a regular feature of the Australian summer in the tropical north and the season still has another month to run. The most deadly on record was Cyclone Tracy, which killed 65 people in the northern city of Darwin in 1974.
Port Closed

Mining company BHP Billiton closed its iron ore port operations in Port Hedland, sent half its mining staff home and closed one of its key iron ore operations.

Ships in the area's iron ore ports moved to the safety of deeper waters to ride out the cyclone and await the possible arrival of category two cyclone Jacob.

The cyclones have also forced the shut down of almost half the country's oil production, with at least 180,600 barrels per day (bpd) of offshore production shut in. Australia produced about 418,000 barrels of oil per day in 2006, according to government figures.

Woodside Petroleum, Australia's largest independent oil and gas producer, shut the 100,000-bpd Cossack Pioneer field, part of the North West Shelf venture, and its nearby 7,000-bpd Legendre project.

Oil and gas producer Santos has suspended production at its 55,000-bpd Mutineer-Exeter oil field, and Chevron was shutting its Thevenard and Barrow Island fields which together produce about 8,000 barrels a day.

Rio Tinto mines about 120 million tons of ore in the Pilbara and BHP mines about 109 million tons, most of which is shipped to steel mills in Japan, China and elsewhere in Asia.

Port Hedland and nearby Roebourne are the two major export outlets for the iron ore, salt and natural gas mined and processed from the Pilbara, which is often referred to as the economic engine room of Australia because of the billions of dollars in export revenue it generates annually.