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Written by: Staff

CANBERRA, Mar 29 (Reuters) A powerful cyclone with winds of up to 300 kph (190 mph) menaced northern parts of Western Australia today, less than two weeks after a storm devastated houses and farms on the other side of the country.

Some oil and gas operations were shut ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Glenda in an area known as ''cyclone alley'' because it is regularly swept by tropical storms at this time of year.

The storm, ranked in the most powerful grade for cyclones, category five, was about 380 km north/northeast of the town of Port Hedland and moving slowly south along the coast, said forecaster Adam Conroy from the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre in Perth, the capital of Western Australia.

''Tomorrow's really the day where things could happen,'' he said.

The remote Pilbara region under threat is home to around 10,000 people and includes Woodside Petroleum's A$14 billion (10 billion dollar) North West Shelf liquefied natural gas (LNG) project at Karratha, about 700 km north of Perth.

Oil and gas producer Santos Ltd. shut its 40,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Mutineer-Exeter oil field on Monday and BHP Billiton's 10,600 bpd Griffin oil field has been closed since Saturday, because of the threat from a smaller storm.

Mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both have operations in the Pilbara, which is home to large deposits of iron ore.

Australia's northeastern coast was devastated by another category five storm, Cyclone Larry, last week.

It ripped roofs off houses, uprooted trees and decimated sugar and banana crops, causing damage worth up to A$1.5 billion (1 billion dollar).

BHP Billiton said its operations had not yet been affected by Cyclone Glenda.

Rio Tinto was not immediately available for comment, but said yesterday bad weather meant the company would fall 5 million tonnes short of its first-quarter iron ore output target.

It still expected 2006 output to rise 14 percent on last year's 158 million tonnes.


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