[MELBOURNE] Australia's north and east coasts are being lashed by two severe cyclones with destructive winds of as much as 250 km per hour, with coal to energy projects halted and residents warned to stay in their homes.
Cyclone Marcia has been downgraded after crossing the coast near Shoalwater Bay as a category 5, only the second storm of that intensity to make landfall in Queensland in more than 40 years, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
It is moving south at 20 km an hour toward Rockhampton, more than 600 km northwest of the state capital Brisbane.
To the north, severe tropical cyclone Lam crossed the Northern Territory coast between Milingimbi and Elcho Island as a category 4 system, the bureau said. It has since been downgraded to a category 2 storm, according to the bureau."We want you to stay in your homes," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said in a televised press conference on Friday. "Please do not leave your homes this morning. Do not go outside under any circumstances." Queensland was devastated by cyclone Yasi in 2011, a category 5 that leveled sugar crops and swamped mines, adding to a natural disaster bill of A$6.8 billion (S$7.19 billion).
Cyclones are measured from 1 to 5, with 1 the weakest and 5 the strongest with winds surpassing 279 km per hour.
Gladstone, an export harbour for coal and liquefied natural gas, along with the Bundaberg and Port Alma shipping terminals, were closed and vessel movements restricted, Queensland police said on Friday in a message posted to its Twitter account.
Ships moved out to sea from Gladstone on Thursday as Marcia neared.
LNG projects on Curtis Island near Gladstone were closed and won't reopen until conditions improve, Kevin Berg, general manager at Bechtel Gladstone, the contractor for the plants, said in an e-mail.
The island is the site of three projects operated by BG Group Plc, Santos Ltd. and a ConocoPhillips and Origin Energy Ltd. venture. BG's project started up late last year and the two others are still under construction.
Ship loading at Hay Point coal terminal and associated rail operations were also being halted temporarily, BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's biggest miner, said in an e-mailed statement.
Anglo American Plc, with coal mines in Queensland, is monitoring developments and will take necessary precautions, Brisbane-based spokeswoman Jacqui Strambi said in an e-mail.
Flood Watch Suncorp Group, an Australian insurer, is putting in place additional measures to help process claims from cyclone Marcia as quickly as possible, the Brisbane-based company said in a statement on Friday.
Heavy rainfall is occurring about coastal and island communities between St Lawrence and Double Island Point, and is expected to extend further inland to areas including the coalfields districts, the Bureau of Meteorology said. A flood watch is current for the area, it said.
Queensland has been hit by 29 severe cyclones since 1970 with an intensity of category 3 or more, the bureau said in an e-mailed statement today. Yasi and Marcia are the only category 5 storms to hit the state during that period.