Key Iron Ore Port Reopens as Australian Cyclone Moves Inland

(Bloomberg) — The key iron ore export hub of Port Hedland reopened after the biggest cyclone to hit Western Australia in at least a decade made landfall, with a major gold mine lashed by destructive winds as the storm moved inland.

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Port Hedland reopened at 11 a.m. local time Friday after an inspection of the channel and berths confirmed safe operations can resume, according to Pilbara Ports Authority. BHP Group and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. export iron ore from the harbor, which was closed on Thursday.

Severe tropical cyclone Ilsa crossed the coast overnight east of Port Hedland in a sparsely populated region as a category 5 — the strongest on the Australian scale. The storm is weakening as it tracks inland but had maintained cyclone intensity as it reached Newcrest Mining Ltd.’s Telfer gold and copper operation, which is 400 kilometers (248 miles) from the port.

Newcrest is aiming to start bringing the majority of workers back to Telfer over the weekend, pending inspections of the airstrip and village at the mine, according to a spokesperson. The company had reduced staffing at the site to a skeleton crew ahead of the cyclone.

Ilsa had weakened to a category 1 cyclone as of 2 p.m. local time on Friday, according to a notice from the Bureau of Meteorology.

The mayor of Port Hedland told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that winds from the cyclone were “like a freight train” but the town appeared to have been spared from major damage. The owners of Pardoo Roadhouse, a tavern and gas station along the coastline, reported “great damage” to their building after riding out the storm, according to local media.

BHP will return to full operations once all vessels have safely returned to the inner harbor at Port Hedland, a spokesman said. There’s been no significant damage to the company’s sites at the port, they added.

Fortescue said no major damage has been reported across any of the company’s Pilbara operations and monitoring will continue over the coming days to assess potential flooding risk, according to a spokesperson. Some teams are commencing post-cyclone ramp up activities, the spokesperson said.

Ilsa is the sixth tropical cyclone and the strongest to make landfall in Australia this season, which runs from Nov. 1 to April 30, according to the bureau. The storm is expected to dump as much as 200 millimeters (7.8 inches) of rain in some areas on Friday.

–With assistance from Liz Yee Xing Ng and Kevin Varley.

(Updates with latest bureau notice, comments from Newcrest and BHP.)

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By Matt Earle

Matthew Earle is the Founder of MiningFeeds. In 2005, Matt founded to provide data and information to the mining investment community. This site was merged with Highgrade Review to form MiningFeeds. Matt has a B.Sc. degree with a minor in geology from the University of Toronto.

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