Strong cyclone hits western Australia

A powerful cyclone lashed Australia's resources-rich west coast Tuesday, bringing torrential rain and gales that ripped up trees and roofs and closed major global iron ore operations.

Tropical Cyclone Christine made landfall after midnight as a category three storm out of a maximum five, bringing winds in excess of 170 kilometres per hour and heavy rain that cut power to several towns, brought down trees and damaged homes.

Christine weakened to a category two while heading inland, with destructive wind gusts of between 110-130 kilometres per hour.

A red alert requiring people to remain indoors was lifted later Tuesday for coastal towns, though residents of inland settlements Tom Price and Paraburdoo were urged to seek shelter and stay away from doors and windows as the front passed.

Some witnesses said it was among the worst storms they had seen.

"We haven't had one that's been this severe for quite some time," Karratha resident Margaret Bertling told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In neighbouring Wickham residents described trees torn from the ground or snapped mid-trunk, with outbuildings ripped from their foundations and roofs hanging from buildings. A tree fell on one home, trapping a family inside.

Overall, however, the impact appeared relatively moderate, with no early reports of structural damage or injuries.

BHP Billiton said it had just received an "all clear with caution" notice for its iron ore export facilities at Port Hedland and an initial damage assessment was underway.

"Some of our personnel have returned to site to assess the damage and plan for the resumption of operations," a BHP spokeswoman said.

Cyclones are relatively common in northwestern Australia during the December-February summer months, with an average of two major storm systems recorded every year in the sparsely populated region.

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