SYDNEY, March 18, 2012 (AFP) - Australia was bracing for its second cyclone in as many days on Sunday with a tropical low intensifying off the northeast state of Queensland. Cyclone Lua, the strongest storm to hit Australia since last year's destructive top-strength Cyclone Yasi, ripped into the nation's minerals-rich west coast on Saturday, bringing wild winds and heavy rains.
Emergency officials said the sparsely-populated region appeared to have escaped the worst, with no injuries and only minor damage reported so far from the storm, which was rated category four of five in severity. "With the category four and with the winds that it had when it crossed the coast, we've been extremely lucky not to have sustained quite a bit of damage in some of those areas," said Lyn Bryant, spokeswoman for the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA). Lua steadily dissipated as it moved inland and had dropped below cyclone strength late Sunday. But forecasters said a second cyclone was forming in Australia's northern Gulf of Carpentaria region, with the bureau warning residents to prepare for gales of up to 185 kilometres (115 miles) per hour and possible flash flooding. "The low is expected to continue moving in a northwesterly direction over southern Gulf of Carpentaria waters today, where it may develop into a tropical cyclone during Monday morning," the bureau said.
Cyclones are common in northern and western Australia during the warmer months, with last year's Yasi -- the worst storm in a century -- wreaking Aus$1 billion (US$1.1 billion) in damage along the Great Barrier Reef coast. Lua tore a path through western Australia's Pilbara region, a critical iron ore and gas mining hub with heavy investment from resources giants including Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. The world's biggest iron ore port, Port Hedland, was closed through the storm but reopened Sunday, and damage to local mining operations was reported to be minimal. "All alerts across the Pilbara have been lifted and operations are returning to normal," a Rio spokesman told AFP. Western Australian residents told of their harrowing wait as Lua raged through the night, bringing 250 kilometre an hour winds and drenching rains. "It was absolutely horrific," said Janet Robb, manager of the Pilbara Roadhouse that was directly in the cyclone's path. "There was half an hour there where you thought, 'Is this ever going to end? Is the roof going to lift? Is the wall going to cave in?'," Robb told Fairfax newspapers. "It was pretty wild. At least we're alive."
Separately, hundreds of people were ordered to evacuate their homes as floodwaters continued to rise in southeastern Australia following huge rains which have already seen several towns inundated.