Tropical cyclone Kelvin lashes West Australia

A map showing the path of Tropical Cyclone Kelvin through Western Australia as it winds its way south through Western Australia. PHOTO: TWITTER/@BOM_WA

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Tropical cyclone Kelvin hit the resource-rich north coast of Western Australia on Sunday (Feb 18), lashing it with strong winds and causing floods that could cut the main highway for up to two weeks.

The storm crossed the coast 165km south-southwest of Broome early on Sunday morning with destructive winds that gusted up to 150km per hour, but the Bureau of Meteorology said it expects the winds to weaken as the system moves inland.

Flooding is the main issue for industry and remote communities as Kelvin inundates a poorly drained area, parts of which are still waterlogged from rains a fortnight ago.

The Great Northern Highway which links major mining export terminal Port Hedland with the gas-rich Kimberley region and the state capital of Perth has been cut north-east of the port and is expected to remain closed for up to two weeks.

"It's flooded the already saturated highway," Main Roads WA media manager Dean Roberts told Reuters on Sunday.

Roberts said the region had a week's notice and communities had prepared themselves with supplies.

The storm is not known to have affected any major onshore or offshore gas projects and industry representative group the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association said it had not heard of any problems from members.

A Woodside Petroleum spokeswoman confirmed there had been no impact on any of their operations off the WA coast.

The cyclone is forecast to move south through the East Pilbara district, which produces an estimated US$15 billion (S$19.7 billion) worth of mining exports each year.

The area, larger than Germany, is home to Australia's biggest iron ore mining district along with Newcrest Mining's Telfer gold mine.

Bureau of Meteorology flood hydrologist Tim Hammond told Reuters the storm was predicted to pass over Newcrest Mining's Telfer goldmine in the Great Sandy Desert and may bring flooding.

"There's no real rivers there, just flooded plains," he said. "It doesn't drain, it just fills up."

Newcrest Mining's senior adviser to stakeholder relations James Porteous said the company had stockpiles of food and supplies and did not expect any disruption to its production schedule.

"We are experienced and well prepared for large rain events," he said.

A section of Marble Bar Road which connects the Port Hedland export terminal with the mining district remained open with a rough surface warning on Saturday afternoon, but Main Roads WA said this could change.

The storm is forecast to pass east of the major iron ore mining region around Newman and is expected to leave the Hancock Prospecting mines Hope Downs and Roy Hill unaffected.

The two projects have a combined yearly production target of more than 100 million tonnes of iron ore.

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