January 9, 2006

Tropical cyclone hits northwest Australia

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Tropical cyclone Clare hit the remote
northwest Australian coast early Tuesday, with fierce winds and
heavy rain cutting power to two towns that are the hub for the
region's offshore gas and oil industries.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the category 3 cyclone came
ashore near Dampier, 1,200 km (750 miles) north of the Western
Australian state capital of Perth, at about 3 a.m. (1900 GMT,
January 9) with wind gusts up to 185 kph (115 mph).

About 11,000 people live around Dampier and the town of
Karratha, at the heart of Western Australia's resource-rich
Pilbara coast, home to offshore oil and gas operations and
ports for the region's iron ore and nickel mines.

The cyclone, which witnesses said brought down power lines
and uprooted trees, was moving slowly to the south and the
Bureau of Meteorology said it was set to gradually weaken.

"So far there have been no reports of damage because people
are still staying indoors, the red alert is still current,"
emergency services spokeswoman Kate Malkovic told Australian
Associated Press.

Up to 1,500 people were evacuated from the area ahead of
the cyclone and there were no reports of injuries, while
emergency services said they were still evaluating damage.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd., BHP Billiton Ltd./Plc., Santos
Ltd. and Chevron closed down oil rigs off the coast and
evacuated staff before the storm.

BHP Billiton also halted the loading of thousands of tonnes
of iron ore from its nearby facility in Port Hedland.

The Dampier port had been cleared of boats but authorities
said the port would be back in operation by the end of the