From: Reuters
Published February 16, 2008 01:51 AM

Cyclone heads for West Australia mining region

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A powerful cyclone off the Western Australia coast was showing signs of intensifying and was likely to cross the country's remote Pilbara mining region over the next two days.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said on Saturday Tropical Cyclone Nicholas was traveling slowly and was 510 km (320 miles) north north-east of Karratha. On current predictions, it is expected to intensify to a Category 4 cyclone from category 2 currently.

"Nicholas has been moving on a westerly track but is expected to take a south southwest track towards the Pilbara coast later today and during Sunday," the Bureau said.

"Nicholas is showing signs of further intensification and there is a risk of a severe tropical cyclone crossing the Pilbara coast on late Monday or Tuesday."

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The sparsely populated Pilbara region, some 1,900 km (1,180 miles) north of Perth, is home to scores of iron ore, manganese, nickel and bauxite deposits as well as nearby offshore oil and gas wells.

Australian oil and gas producer Santos Ltd has already shut off their oil fields off Western Australia due to the cyclone. Another Australian oil producer AED Oil Ltd earlier in the week, stopped production at its oil field in the Timor Sea, due to developing storms in the area.

Chevron and Woodside Petroleum Ltd, which operate the 73,000 barrels per day Cossack-Pioneer oil field in the Karratha region, have said their operations were not yet affected.

Last March, a powerful cyclone in the region forced oil companies, including Santos and Woodside Petroleum, to shut about 180,000 barrels a day of production, half of Australia's output, for nearly a week.

Residents were urged to prepare a plan before the cyclone struck.

"It is possible that gales could affect coastal communities between Pardoo and Mardie on Sunday and then extend to adjacent inland parts on Monday. Gales may develop in coastal areas between Mardie and Coral Bay on Monday or Tuesday," the Bureau said.

Meanwhile, flood ravaged Mackay in north Queensland was declared a disaster zone in the wake of Saturday's torrential rain when 600 mm (23.6 inches) of rain fell in just six hours.

"There is certainly a bit of water around in some of the low lying areas," Julie Boyd, Mackay's mayor, told Australian media. "People are out and cleaning up their houses -- obviously ripping up carpets and those sorts of things and trying to salvage what they can."

In the nearby Townsville region also, emergency services evacuated about a dozen homes.

(Reporting by Anirban Nag; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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