January 1, 2019 / 3:36 AM / 3 months ago

Cyclone threatens Australian mining port

SYDNEY, Jan 1 (Reuters) - A cyclone is expected to hit the northern Australian port of Weipa on Tuesday, disrupting shipping and lashing the coast with wind gusts of up to 100 km per hour (62 miles per hour), the weather bureau said.

The Port of Weipa, which handles bauxite from Rio Tinto’s 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, harbourmaster 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 40C (104°F).

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 percent to 16.95 million tonnes during the 2018/19 season, the smallest in a decade. (Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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