Tropical cyclone Penny hits far north Australia near Rio Tinto mine

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Tropical Cyclone Penny slammed into the far north coast of Australia’s Queensland state near Rio Tinto Group’s Weipa bauxite mine, triggering warnings of flash flooding and damaging winds.

The category 1 cyclone, with wind gusts of up to 100kmh, is expected to weaken into a tropical low later Tuesday (Jan 1) evening as it crosses Cape York Peninsula, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Cyclone Penny crossed the coast near the mining town of Weipa, a community of some 3,500 people where Rio Tinto operates a bauxite mine. The company said it was monitoring the cyclone and making appropriate preparations.

The Port of Weipa, which handles bauxite from the Weipa mine as well as general cargo, fuel and live cattle, remained shut for a third day as Cyclone Penny moved towards it across the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Captain Michael Barnett, harbour-master for the Cairns region, told Reuters by telephone that the port was expected to reopen Thursday. Two bulk carriers for bauxite export had moved further into the Gulf for safety and were not in any danger.

Rio Tinto ships 30 million tonnes of bauxite annually from Weipa, population 3,500, supplying international customers as well as alumina refineries in Gladstone, Queensland.

“We are monitoring the movements of Tropical Cyclone Penny in the Gulf of Carpentaria and making preparations appropriate for the situation,” a Rio Tinto spokesman told Reuters.

Meteorologist Jonathan Low said the cyclone was expected to cross the coast with strong winds, a storm surge and heavy rain, and could strengthen as it passed over the gulf.

Elsewhere in Australia seven people drowned between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve as people flocked to waterways to escape a searing heatwave with temperatures around 40 deg C.

The heatwave is hitting Australia’s agricultural sector at a time when drought has forced the world’s fourth-biggest wheat supplier to lower its production forecast.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) lowered its wheat forecast in December by 11 per cent to 16.95 million tonnes during the 2018/19 season, the smallest in a decade.