Jim Andrews

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Australia Lashed by Gales Ahead of Rusty

February 26, 2013; 8:16 AM ET

Gales and torrential rains, spreading ashore ahead of Tropical Cyclone Rusty, lashed the northwestern coast of Australia Monday and Tuesday.

Residents of Western Australia's Pilbara region braced for the slow-moving, potentially destructive storm, whose landfall was expected by late Wednesday, local time.

"Red alerts" were posted in the likely area of landfall, where evacuation relocation centers were opened.

Ship loading was halted in area ports, which number among the biggest in the world.

The slow speed of the storm was cited as underpinning the storm's dangerous potential, insofar as it would make for an extended period of flooding rainfall, damaging winds and battering seas.

Forecasters with the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) warned that rainfall of "over 500 mm [about 20 inches], and perhaps up to 600 mm [about 24 inches]," was expected within three days around Port Hedland, the biggest community in the area.

The BoM website, in describing the cyclone impact, used words like "VERY DESTRUCTIVE," "MAJOR" and "VERY DANGEROUS" in underscoring the seriousness of wind, rain and tidal impact.

Port Hedland radar image, showing the rain of Tropical Cyclone Rusty as of 1320 UTC Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. A broad eye is well shown, the eye wall lying near Bedout Island. (image credit: (Bureau of Meteorology)

As of late Tuesday afternoon, local time, the center of Rusty, classed as a "Category-3 Cyclone," was pegged about 130 km (80 miles) north-northeast of Port Hedland, according to the BoM.

Late-day wind estimates gave top speeds of more than 85 mph.

Earlier, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center had estimated 75-mph top sustained winds with Rusty. Storm movement was slow: less than 5 mph towards the south.

A late Wednesday, local time, landfall was forecast by the BoM less than 50 km (about 30 miles) east of Port Hedland.

Deputy mayor of Port Hedland shire George Daccache warned that Rusty could be "one of the worst the town has ever seen," the Australian website said on Tuesday.

One of the world's biggest bulk export ports, Port Hedland "handles one-fifth of all sea-borne iron ore," the Australian ABC News website said. And the iron ranges of the Pilbara account for much of the world's mined ore.

Beyond Wednesday's forecast landfall, Rusty was forecast to weaken and lose cyclone character, southbound over the Pilbara, while continuing to unleash flooding rainfall.

The De Grey River catch basin was said likely to experience major flooding, the BoM website warned.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite imagery, valid 1230 UTC, shows the eye of Tropical Cyclone Rusty north-northeast of Port Hedland, W.A., Australia. See also Tropical Depression Thirteen at the western edge of the image. (Bureau of Meteorology)

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