SYDNEY: Australian authorities urged the evacuation of parts of the resource-rich northwest on Tuesday as a powerful cyclone whipped up huge seas, while a man died in heavy flooding in the northeast.
Wild weather was pounding northern Western Australia as tropical cyclone Rusty, upgraded to a severe category three storm, neared the coast and a second low-pressure system formed in the Indian Ocean.
Australia’s major iron ore export ports were shut as Rusty approached and authorities ordered evacuations in the sparsely-populated region, which is frequently battered by cyclones in the warmer months.
“There is a possible threat to lives and homes as a cyclone is approaching the area. You need to take action and get ready to shelter from a cyclone,” Western Australia’s department of fire and emergency services said.
“People in low lying areas of Port Hedland… should relocate now because of very likely storm surge.”
NASA said Rusty’s eye alone measured 20 nautical miles across.
Rusty was expected to make landfall as a category four storm late Wednesday north of Port Hedland, about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) north of Perth, and the weather bureau has warned that its slow motion and large size will bring prolonged and extensive gales.
It said very destructive winds gusting in excess of 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour were expected to develop on Wednesday well ahead of Rusty making landfall, bringing very heavy rain likely to cause flooding.
“Severe tropical cyclone Rusty’s intensity, size and slow movement is also likely to lead to a very dangerous storm tide as the cyclone centre nears the coast,” it added.
“Tides are likely to rise significantly above the normal high tide mark with damaging waves and very dangerous coastal inundation.”
Strong squalls were already blowing in excess of 120 kilometres per hour at Port Hedland, and the port authority said the shipping control tower had been closed and all personnel evacuated.
Rain has also lashed Australia’s east coast, with Queensland police confirming a 77-year-old man died when his vehicle was submerged by floodwaters at Kilcoy, north of Brisbane, after torrential rains drenched the state for the second time in as many months.