Australia cyclone spares coal miners, farmers

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2015 11:20 PM

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Commodities producers were spared the full wrath of a powerful cyclone that smashed into the east cost of Australia packing winds up to 285 kph (175 mph), but thousands of coastal residents on Monday faced a third day without electricity.

"We are doing everything we can to restore power," said Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of Queensland state, which bore the brunt of the storm that hit land on Friday with the highest-possible cyclone rating.

There had been concerns that Marcia would wreak havoc on Queensland's A$25 billion commodity and agriculture sectors, but early assessments as the storm dissipated over land point to minimal disruptions caused by suspension of some ship loading and coal-hauling rail lines.

"I don't think that it's anywhere as severe as in other times of cyclones and rain events, but we are still getting reports in," said a spokesman for the Queensland Resources Council.

Aurizon Holdings, Australia's biggest coal rail freight company, said that its Blackwater corridor servicing many of Queensland state's Bowen Basin collieries - the world's single-largest source of coal used to make steel - reopened on Sunday.

However, its 228-km Moura corridor that hauls coal from five mines to the Gladstone coastal industrial hub remained suspended.

"Aerial inspections of track have been undertaken. However, on the ground inspections are being hampered because of road closures and inability to access by rail," Aurizon said.

Gladstone Ports Corp (GPC) said ship movements had resumed on Saturday.

"GPC's emergency management planning and preparations have ensured that we have experienced minimal damage," it said.

Marcia's trajectory had indicated the impact on coal mining was expected to be less severe than in 2011, when Queensland missed its annual coal export target by 40 million tonnes following unusually heavy rains.

Sugar fields in Queensland, a key cane-growing state in the world's No.3 exporter of raw sweetener, were unscathed, an industry group said on Monday.

In fact, growers should benefit from the moisture brought by up to 300 millimeters of rain that accompanied Marcia, said CaneGrowers Australia.

Elsewhere, Insurance Australia Group said it had received about 700 claims related to damage from Cyclone Marcia, with more expected as policyholders return to their homes and businesses.

Emergency crews were also cleaning up after a second cyclone last week ripped apart remote coastal communities in the far north coast of the Northern Territory.

Four remote indigenous communities were affected by the category 4 storm, which hit Elcho Island on Thursday night before turning inland.

(Reporting by James Regan and Colin Packham; Editing by Joseph Radford)