Australia's northwest region, home to the world's largest export hub for iron ore, could be struck by the region's most powerful tropical cyclone in a decade as residents evacuated ships and stocked up on essential supplies.
Cyclone Ilsa, located approximately 300 kilometres (186 miles) off the coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean, was upgraded to a category four cyclone on Thursday morning, one level below the strongest category five.
The Bureau of Meteorology predicts it will land as early as Thursday night, carrying winds of up to 275 kilometres per hour (171 miles per hour).
ABC television meteorologist Miriam Bradbury stated, "They have a lot of strength, with the ability to not only destroy trees and power lines but also lift loose items in the yard, including trailers and caravans."
In its most recent update, the weather bureau reported that Ilsa could affect a 600-kilometre stretch of sparsely populated land from just north of Port Hedland to just south of the tourist town of Broome.
Terminal Hedland is the world's largest export terminal for iron ore and is utilized by BHP Group, Fortescue, and Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, which a billionaire owns. Port of Dampier, located west of Port Hedland, is used for exports by Rio Tinto.
According to the weather bureau, Port Hedland may be spared by "the extremely destructive core of Ilsa," but winds of up to 155 kilometres per hour could still batter the mining town.
According to Jessica Lingard, a forecaster with the weather bureau, it will be the greatest system to strike the far northwest region since Cyclone Christine crossed the coast in December 2013.
BHP responded via email that it was carefully monitoring the cyclone but that its mining and rail operations would continue. Fortescue has suspended shipping operations and non-essential travel to the port but does not anticipate a "significant impact to our operations at this time," according to a spokesperson.
Several remote towns have been issued a yellow alert, requiring residents to be ready to seek refuge from a cyclone. According to the alert, mining companies employ the preponderance of Port Hedland's 15,000 residents.
Local media reported that some supermarket shelves had been emptied due to high demand for essential items such as bottled water, fruit, and livestock.