March 29, 2006

Cyclone threatens Western Australia

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A severe cyclone with winds exceeding
155 mph menaced northern parts of Western Australia on
Wednesday, less than two weeks after a storm devastated homes
and crops on the other side of the country.

Some oil and gas operations and key iron ore ports closed
ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Glenda in an area known as
"cyclone alley" because it is regularly swept by storms at this
time of year.

The storm was downgraded later on Wednesday to a category
four, one below the most powerful grade for cyclones, and was
about 186 miles north of the town of Port Hedland and moving
slowly west, the Tropical Cyclone Warning Center said.

"Tomorrow's really the day where things could happen," said
forecaster Adam Conroy from the center in Perth, the capital of
Western Australia.

The remote Pilbara region under threat is home to around
10,000 people and includes Woodside Petroleum's A$14 billion
($10 billion) North West Shelf liquefied natural gas project at
Karratha, about 800 miles north of Perth.

"Residents of the central and west Pilbara coast are warned
of the risk of very destructive winds with gusts exceeding 250
km per hour during Thursday as this very dangerous cyclone
nears the coast," the Bureau of Meteorology said on its Web
site (

Australia's northeastern coast was devastated last week by
Cyclone Larry. It blew roofs off houses, uprooted trees and
decimated sugar and banana crops, causing damage worth up to
A$1.5 billion ($1 billion).

Woodside said on Wednesday that it had suspended production
at its 100,000-barrel-per-day Cossack oilfield in the Indian
Ocean on Tuesday as the sixth cyclone of the season approached.

Oil and gas producer Santos Ltd. shut its
40,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Mutineer-Exeter oil field on Monday
and BHP Billiton's 10,600 bpd Griffin oil field has been closed
since Saturday, after it was threatened by a smaller storm.

Mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both have
operations in the Pilbara, which has large deposits of iron

Rio said its port operations at Dampier and Cape Lambert
had shut and ships had gone out to sea, while BHP said it was
loading its last ship and port operations at Port Hedland would
close shortly.

Rio said on Tuesday bad weather meant the company would
fall 5 million tonnes short of its first-quarter iron ore
output target. It still expected 2006 output to rise 14 percent
on last year's 158 million tonnes.