Worst Cyclone in 6 Years Set to Pummel Coast of Queensland, Australia

By and Matthew Burgess | March 27, 2017

The worst cyclone in six years is set to smash into the coast of Queensland on Tuesday morning, forcing thousands of Australians to evacuate or seek emergency shelter and prompting some of the world’s biggest miners to halt coal operations.

Cyclone Debbie is forecast to intensify before it makes landfall north of the city of Mackay with winds as strong as 275 kilometers an hour (171 miles per hour) at its “very destructive core,” according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Police warned that 25,000 residents need to evacuate the city due to an expected storm surge.

“This is going to be a severe cyclone,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters Monday. “It is increasing in intensity.”

Debbie is expected to cross land as a category four cyclone, carrying the risk of significant structural damage and dangerous airborne debris, according to the weather bureau. It will be the first in two years to reach the coast of the northeastern state and could be worse than Cyclone Yasi in some areas. Yasi was category five — the most severe — and badly damaged sugar- and banana-producing regions and affected tourist sites on the Great Barrier Reef.

Australia’s military is moving into position to help authorities respond to the cyclone, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Monday.

Sugar Threat

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest miner, said it was suspending operations at the South Walker Creek metallurgical coal mine. Glencore Plc is preparing to temporarily halt output from the Collinsville and Newlands mines. Evolution Mining Ltd., Australia’s second-largest gold producer, evacuated its Mt Carlton mine, according to a filing Monday.

The cyclone’s footprint covers the Burdekin, Proserpine and Mackay sugar-cane growing regions, which account for about half of Queensland’s crop, the industry group Canegrowers said in a statement. It’s too early to say whether the winds would affect the current forecast for a crop of 37 million tons of sugar cane in the harvest that starts in eight to nine weeks, Paul Schembri, the group’s chairman said in an interview.

“It’s bound to generate some crop losses but at this point in time we can’t speculate what the extent of those losses will be,” Schembri said. “Damage now is just going to be another body blow to farmers at this time of the year.”

Aurizon Holdings Ltd., Australia’s largest freight rail operator, has stopped delivering coal to the export ports of Abbot Point, Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point, the company said Sunday.

The Port of Townsville, which handles approximately A$30 million ($23 million) in trade per day, evacuated vessels and personnel Monday. It took about 40 hours before the first ship was allowed back into port after Cyclone Yasi passed in 2011, Corporate Affairs Manager Sharon Hoops said by phone.

Resolute Mining Ltd. said Monday it had suspended operations and sent home staff at the Ravenswood gold mine, about 100 kilometers inland from Cape Upstart.

–With assistance from Ben Sharples, Perry Williams and Hannah Dormido.

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