Australian resource-rich region unscathed after cyclone

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2012 7:28 AM
Australian resource-rich region unscathed after cyclone

By Morag MacKinnon

PERTH (Reuters) - A powerful tropical cyclone which pounded Australia's resource-rich north west at the weekend appears to have passed without causing any serious damage and shipping operations have already resumed in the area.

Port Hedland, the region's largest iron ore terminal, closed the anchorage for 66 hours and the port for a total of 52 hours due to Tropical Cyclone Lua, which crossed the coast 100 km (60 miles) north in a sparsely populated area on Saturday afternoon.

"It's amazing. By early today (Sunday) we had been in contact with all the towns, communities and the mining operations in the regions affected by the cyclone and everyone is okay," Fire and Emergency Service manager Les Hayter told Reuters.

"There has been no damage to major infrastructure and no injuries reported due to the cyclone. I have to pinch myself. It's as if a category 1 cyclone passed through here, not a category 4."

Category 4 is the second most powerful cyclone on the Australian scale.

PLANNING PAYS OFF

"All the cyclone planning and preparation is really paying off and of course there's been an element of luck. There are reports of tree damage in Port Hedland, which is amazing considering the town was hit by winds of 150-180 km an hour," Hayter added.

The Port Hedland Port Authority said in a statement it was reopening both the anchorage and port. Australia's second- and third-biggest iron ore miners, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group, both export through Port Hedland.

The weather bureau on Sunday downgraded the cyclone which hit land with wind speeds of up to 270 km per hour (170 miles per hour), to a severe weather warning for the inland northern goldfields region. Wind speeds of up to 100 km an hour and heavy rain were still expected, the bureau said.

Supply concerns because of the cyclone along with recent gains in Chinese steel prices helped spur iron ore prices to the highest in nearly four months on Friday.

The cyclone also stopped production of about a quarter of Australia's daily oil production of about 390,000 barrels.

Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) shut-in production from its Vincent and Enfield oil fields off the North West Cape and the Cossack, Wanea, Lambert, and Hermes oil fields in the North West Shelf as the cyclone approached late last week.

Company spokeswoman Laura Lunt confirmed they were still closed on Sunday.

Woodside's Vincent produces an average of 40,423 barrels per day (bpd) and Enfield 19,623 bpd, while the company's North West Shelf fields produce around 16,503 bpd, according to the latest production report.

Apache Corp (APA.N) also closed its oil fields as Lua approached. The company's Stag oil field produces about 8,800 barrels a day.

"We expect remobilization of the affected facilities to begin early this week," Apache spokesman David Parker said.

Cyclones regularly strike during Australia's summer and often force offshore oil and gas platforms to suspend operations.

(Writing by Morag MacKinnon, Editing by Ron Popeski)