March 15, 2005

Super Cyclone Pummeling Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) -- A "super cyclone" packing winds of over 300 kilometers an hour (185 miles) is bearing down on Australia's remote northwest coast after already striking the country twice in the east and north.

Cyclone Ingrid was upgraded to a Category Five -- the highest level -- early Tuesday over the Timor Sea and was expected to roar across the coast near the Aboriginal community of Kalumburu early Wednesday.

Western Australia's cyclone warning center said Kalumburu and other communities in the far northwest were well prepared for the storm, which is predicted to have sustained winds of 285 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 320 kilometers per hour.

"I think most of the communities around there are fairly well prepared and they're just getting ready to batten down if the destructive inner core of the cyclone does come close to them," the center's Andrew Burton told ABC radio.

Women and children in Kalumburu were preparing to evacuate by air to the town of Wyndham while men were battening down their possessions and preparing for flooding, the Australian Associated Press reported from Western Australia.

Ingrid, one of the most powerful cyclones ever to hit Australia, first struck the far northeast on Thursday but caused little damage in the sparsely populated area.

The storm then headed back out to sea north of Australia and caused severe damage on Monday to the Tiwi Islands just off the north coast, destroying buildings, uprooting trees and cutting power and communications to remote Aboriginal communities.

No injuries were reported from the islands.