An intense tropical cyclone battered northwest Australia on Friday, bringing the strongest winds the country has ever recorded, but officials said towns and cities appeared to have escaped the worst of the storm.
Tropical Cyclone Elsa made landfall in the early hours as a Category 5 storm – the strongest on a massive scale – near the sparsely populated town of Bardo, about a 19-hour drive northeast of Perth.
Pictures from the scene showed the destructive power of the storm, as it blasts through walls and rips the roof of Bardot petrol station.
Todd Smith of the Bureau of Meteorology said the hurricane brought winds of 289 kilometers (179 miles) per hour, which are believed to be the strongest ever recorded in Australia.
Ilsa also amassed an Australian record for the strongest sustained wind speeds over a 10-minute period – an average of 218 kilometers (135 miles) per hour.
The previous record was 194 km/h, set by Hurricane George in 2007.
“It just shows how powerful this system is as it gets closer to the coast,” Smith told reporters.
Authorities said that for the larger towns and settlements in the area it was a miraculous escape and appeared to have escaped significant damage.
“I’m told that early assessments in those areas show the damage is fairly minimal,” Acting Emergency Services Secretary Sue Ellery told reporters.
The world’s largest iron ore shipping hub reopened on Friday after being forced to close earlier in the week as a cyclone billowed over the Indian Ocean.
The hurricane has since been downgraded to a Category 2 status, but authorities remain cautious as it is heading towards several remote Indigenous communities and a major gold mine.
The Fire and Emergency Services Department issued a new series of “Red Alerts” as the storm veered inland Friday afternoon, ordering people to stay indoors until everything has cleared up.
“There are many remote communities and mining operations that have not yet been affected,” Ellery said.
These included the natives of Bonmu and the Newcrest gold mine in Telver.
“It is too early to know the impact of the hurricane as it continues to pass through the region,” Newcrest said in a statement to AFP.
Tropical storms usually blow up quickly once they make landfall, but Elsa was expected to maintain extraordinary intensity as she moved across the vast remote desert in the days ahead.
The northwest coast of Western Australia is the most hurricane-prone area in the country, according to the Met Office.
It also has “the highest rate of hurricanes in the Southern Hemisphere”.
The region contains large deposits of iron ore, copper, and gold, and is home to some of the largest mining operations in Australia.
Australian researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change increases the risk of natural disasters such as bushfires, floods and hurricanes.
© 2023 AFP
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