March 30, 2006

Cyclone Glenda lashes Australian coast

PERTH, Australia -- A tiny town known as "cyclone city" on Australia's remote northwest coast was being lashed by winds of up to 235 kmh (145 mph) late on Thursday as a severe tropical cyclone slammed ashore from the Indian Ocean.

Tropical cyclone Glenda, the second destructive storm to hit Australia in 10 days, had earlier forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in larger towns, shut down oil and gas rigs and disrupted iron ore shipments in the region.

Meteorologists said the eye of the cyclone passed over the town of Onslow, 1,390 km (860 miles) north of the Western Australia state capital of Perth, at 9 p.m. local time.

"It was really, really creepy. Before it was hammering down and we had winds gusting in ... and now it's absolutely dead still," one unidentified Onslow resident told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The category four cyclone, one below the maximum grade, stalled briefly as it crossed the remote and sparsely populated coastline but was expected to resume moving southwest through the ruggedly beautiful Pilbara region.

"Residents of Onslow are warned that very destructive winds will soon resume without warning from a different direction," Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said in its latest cyclone warning (

"Very destructive gusts to 235 kmh are expected near the cyclone center, and are occurring on the coast in the vicinity of Onslow," it said.

There were no immediate reports of damage from Onslow.

Towns further north such as Dampier and the iron ore and tourism hub of Karratha earlier reported that trees and power lines had been brought down and roads cut by flooding after they were sideswiped by Glenda.

Founded by graziers in the 1880s, Onslow has a population of about 800 and is known locally as "cyclone city" for the frequency of major storms. Onslow was hit by cyclones in 1926, 1934, 1961 and 1963, the latter of similar magnitude to Glenda.

The Bureau of Meteorology warned of extensive flooding in the region, which has already been inundated by rain from three other cyclones this year.

"Residents at Onslow are specifically warned of the potential for a very dangerous storm tide as the cyclone center crosses the coast," the bureau said in a statement.

It was feared Glenda could be as destructive as Cyclone Larry, which destroyed homes and crops on Australia's northeastern coast earlier this month.

State officials breathed a sigh of relief earlier on Thursday after the cyclone spared Karratha, where about half the region's 14,000 people live.


The Pilbara region, which was put on red alert, includes Woodside Petroleum's A$14 billion ($10 billion) North West Shelf liquefied natural gas project at Karratha.

Woodside had already suspended production at its 100,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Cossack oilfield in the Indian Ocean, while oil and gas producer Santos Ltd. has shut its 40,000 bpd Mutineer-Exeter oil field.

BHP Billiton's 10,600 bpd Griffin oil field has been closed since Saturday. BHP and fellow mining giant Rio Tinto both have operations in the Pilbara, which has large deposits of iron ore, and have shut port operations.

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.