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Cyclone Glenda crosses northwest Australian coast

Written by: Staff

PERTH, Australia, Mar 30 (Reuters) A severe tropical cyclone gathered speed today before it crossed the remote northwest Australian coast with winds of up to 250 kmh (155 mph) after hundreds of people had been evacuated.

Tropical cyclone Glenda had already shut oil and gas rigs and disrupted iron ore shipments in the region, while thousands of people secured their homes as they prepared to ride it out.

Few reports of damage were received soon after Glenda roared ashore near the iron ore port of Dampier and the smaller towns of Mardie and Onslow in the sparsely populated and ruggedly beautiful Pilbara region of Western Australia state.

''Very destructive gusts to 250 kmh are expected near the cyclone centre, and are occurring on the coast in the vicinity of Mardie and Onslow,'' Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said in its latest cyclone update at 4 p m (1350 hrs IST).

It said destructive winds would extend inland overnight and tomorrow.

Glenda is a category-four storm, one below the most powerful grade, and hit in an area known as ''cyclone alley'' because it is regularly swept by storms at this time of year.

State officials breathed a sigh of relief after the cyclone spared the iron ore and tourism town of Karratha, about 1,550 km north of the state capital Perth. About half the region's 14,000 people live in Karratha.

Emergency workers said Glenda had gathered speed and crossed the coast south of Karratha hours earlier than expected, cutting roads and bringing down power lines. Karratha was still hit by destructive gusts up to 130 kmh (80 mph), they said.

FLOODING ''I believe the roads are closed in that area already, so movement around there is very limited,'' emergency services official Bill Rose told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The Pilbara region, which was put on red alert, includes Woodside Petroleum's A14 billion dollars (10 billion dollars) North West Shelf liquefied natural gas project at Karratha.

About 500 people had earlier been evacuated from the town as Glenda bore down on the coast.

It was feared Glenda could be as destructive as Cyclone Larry, which destroyed homes and crops on Australia's northeastern coast earlier this month.

Meteorologists also warned of dangerous flooding from abnormally high tides and damaging waves in a region already awash from five previous cyclones this season.

''Residents between Dampier and Onslow are specifically warned of the potential of a very dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crosses the coast,'' the Bureau of Meteorology said on its Web site (www.bom.gov.au).

Local television had earlier showed residents battening down as the cyclone approached, fastening steel grilles over their windows or tying caravans down with thumb-thick wire cables as rain and strong winds whipped through Karratha and nearby towns.

Woodside had already suspended production at its 100,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Cossack oilfield in the Indian Ocean, while oil and gas producer Santos Ltd. has shut its 40,000 bpd Mutineer-Exeter oil field.

BHP Billiton's 10,600 bpd Griffin oil field has been closed since Saturday. BHP and fellow mining giant Rio Tinto both have operations in the Pilbara, which has large deposits of iron ore, and have shut port operations.

Rio said on Tuesday 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 per cent on last year's 158 million tonnes.

Reuters SB DB1818

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