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One dead as severe cyclone batters Pilbara coast

<p>A severe tropical cyclone that hit Western Australia’s Pilbara region late last night (Thursday, March 8) claimed one life and injured several others at an inland rail construction camp.</p> <p>Cyclone George, then a category four but now downgraded to category three, crossed the coast at Port Hedland at 2200 hrs yesterday causing widespread damage to homes and toppling trees.</p> <p>The early lockdown of the Pilbara’s two major iron ore ports appeared to have averted any major damage to the ports, but a rail camp for Fortescue Metals Group workers has taken a direct hit.</p> <p>Western Australian police said one person had died in the incident 100 km south of Port Hedland and authorities had not ruled out the possibility of more fatalities.</p> <p>The construction camps, made up of transportable homes, house several hundred people and are typically designed to withstand severe weather.</p> <p>Up to 20 others were injured, but ambulance crews had been unable to reach them late this morning.</p> <p>Winds of up to 275 km&#47h (150 knots) caused power and phone services around Port Hedland to be cut, destroying fences, downing trees and tearing roofs off houses. </p> <p>Port Hedland harbour master Lindsay Copeman said the port seemed to have been protected from the 275 km&#47h wind gusts. </p> <p>&#8220We certainly had some reasonable gusts, [but&#93 the effects were more the heavy side of a category three rather than a category four,&#8221 Captain Copeman said.</p> <p>&#8220There’s still gale force winds here now, with gusts up to 60 or 70 knots so I’d say that it will probably be another couple of hours before it eases.&#8221</p> <p>Port Hedland was still locked down on red alert late this morning, preventing staff from leaving protected areas to inspect the damage.</p> <p>Capt Copeman said the greatest threat was likely to be flooding and, at this stage, the structural damage should be limited.</p> <p>&#8220We got all the ships out before the gale force winds hit and we’ve got a lot of vessels, construction barges and the <em>Leonardo Da Vinci</em> on cyclone moorings,&#8221 he said.</p> <p>&#8220They’ve sat through the night comfortably, but it will be a while before we get back into shipping.&#8221</p> <p>There were estimated to be up to 10 vessels sent out of the port to ride out the cyclone yesterday.</p> <p>Capt Copeman said the vessels should have been well out to sea, meaning it would take some time for them to return to the port to resume loading.</p> <p>Port Hedland could re-open tomorrow, he said.</p> <p>Port of Dampier harbour master Vic Justice said Cyclone George was no longer a threat, but that a second storm presently 170 miles south of Christmas Island was being carefully monitored.</p> <p>The bureau has told the Dampier Port Authority that it expected Cyclone Jacob, now a category two, to head towards the port over the next few days.</p> <p>Capt Justice said the port would re-open on a limited basis to load one gas tanker and possibly an iron ore bulker this afternoon.</p> <p>&#8220We’re looking now to get the supply boats in to get fuel and do crew changes and also for them to prepare to ride out Cyclone Jacob,&#8221 he said.</p> <p>Preliminary inspections at the port of Walcott indicate that the port has not sustained any major damage.</p> <p>The port was due to re-open at 1200 hrs local time, but strong winds were expected to prevent any berthing.</p> <p>Walcott and the port of Onslow both closed early yesterday when it was clear that Cyclone George had changed direction and was moving towards the coast.</p> <p>Most of the offshore oil and gas operations to the northwest of the Pilbara have been affected, with many closing on Tuesday and Wednesday.</p> <p>The North West Shelf Venture’s offshore gas rigs have been shut down, including Mutineer-Exeter and Legendre operations.</p> <p>The bureau is warning ships within 65 miles of Port Hedland to expect very rough to high seas and moderate to heavy swells.</p> <p>Widespread heavy rain of up to 200 mm was likely to bring flooding to the Pilbara over the next 24 hrs, the bureau said. </p> <br />