CANBERRA: Western Australia, the nation’s key resources state, is assessing the damage after its biggest cyclone in at least a decade made landfall overnight, setting a preliminary wind speed record in the country of 218km (135 miles) per hour.
Severe tropical cyclone Ilsa came ashore as a Category 5 storm - the highest intensity - in the Pilbara mining region, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. As of 6am local time, it had weakened to a Category 3 storm about 160km west-northwest of Newcrest Mining Ltd.’s Telfer gold mine as it tracked toward the nation’s interior.
It is still packing heavy winds and expected to dump as much as 200 millimeters (7.8 inches) of rain in some areas on Friday. While the cyclone made landfall in a sparsely populated area away from most mining and port infrastructure, it will pass close to the gold mine and several Indigenous communities.
The mayor of Port Hedland on the coast - utilized by BHP Group and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. to export iron ore - told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that winds from the cyclone were “like a freight train” but the town appeared to have been spared from major damage. The port had been closed since Thursday. The owners of Pardoo Roadhouse, a tavern and gas station along the coastline, reported “great damage” to their building after riding out the storm, according to local media.
Australia’s western state is a key producer of commodities from metals to natural gas and cyclones can often halt production at mines and exports from ports. Newcrest had implemented plans to wind down production at the Telfer mine and reduce staffing to a skeleton crew. On Thursday, a spokesperson for BHP said workers had been tying down equipment and pausing non-essential travel to Port Hedland.
Ilsa is the sixth tropical cyclone and the strongest to make landfall this season, which runs from Nov. 1 to April 30, according to the bureau.
The highway between Port Hedland and the town of Broome had been closed and evacuation centers opened, according to a notice from Western Australian emergency services.
In the lead-up to the cyclone, grocery stores at Port Hedland were stripped of fresh produce, water, meat and cheese as people stocked up on supplies, according to reports from local media. Residents were also asked to put away trash cans and barbecues to prevent them from becoming missiles in strong winds.
The only other cyclone to make landfall in the country this season was Ellie in late December, which led to severe flooding through northern parts of Western Australia.