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Port Hedland Reopens After Powerful Cyclone Comes Ashore to the North

Cyclone hits Australia
Powerful storm came ashore north of Port Hedland sparing the mining operations from major damage (NASA)

Published Apr 14, 2023 1:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

Cyclone Isla came ashore in northwest Australia shortly after midnight local time on April 14 packing possibly the highest ever recorded wind speeds but largely missed the populated areas including the world’s largest ore port at Port Hedland and the mining camps mostly to the south. The port was reopening while coastal and inland communities to the northeast and east are reporting severe damage and devastation from the powerful storm.

Pilbara Ports which operates the mining port at Port Hedland had ordered the port closed and all vessels to depart starting late on Wednesday, April 12. The anchorage had been cleared along with the port including the massive bulkers that operate for the major mining companies including BHP and Fortescue from the port.

The storm crossed the coast approximately 75 miles east-northeast of Port Hedland before heading inland. It was approaching the coast with reports of wind gusts at up to 150 mph. Before hitting the main coastline, it crossed a small uninhabited island, Bedout Island which lies about 25 miles offshore, and there the meteorological service reported it had wind speeds sustained for 10 minutes at 135 mph and with gusts reaching 179 mph. NASA is reporting that wind gusts were measured at 190 miles per hour making it one of the most powerful storms on record. The previous record in the region was set in 2007 with wind speeds of 120 mph.

The intensity of the storm hit less populated areas but nonetheless there are reports of widespread damage. One cattle farmer told the local news outlet that he was concerned for his 5,000 head and that during the peak of the storm water tanks on the farm had burst due to the sudden drop in atmospheric pressure. Another local business reported finding debris that had been blown more than six miles from their site.

There were also concerns about the potential for large amounts of rain and possible flooding. The weather service was warning of as much as 10 to 11 inches of rain. The last record storm in 2007 killed three people at the mining camps due to its flooding and strong wind.

Port Hedland, population 16,000, however, reported limited, sporadic damage from the storm. For example, one parking garage was reported as flooded. The area experienced high winds being on the righthand side of the storm and the weather service was warning that gusts could continue to reach nearly 100 mph for several more hours.

Pilbara Ports Authority announced that it had undertaken inspections of navigation aids, the channel, and berths, and had confirmed safe operations could resume. They were working with terminal and vessel operators on a plan to restart shipping and reported that the port was open as of 1100 local time on April 14. A picture was posted on social media showing a Shandong Shipping bulker as the first vessel back into the port.

The port plays a significant role in the region and is the center for shipping iron ore and other materials to countries ranging from China to Japan and South Korea. The Australian government last month announced plans to invest more than US$380 million into the expansion of the port.