Australia Braces for First Tropical Storm Narelle

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | January 11, 2013 12:04 PM EST

While other state parts of Australia are being ravaged by simultaneous bushfires, residents off the northern coast of Western Australia gear up for tropical cyclone Narelle, the country's first for the Dec-April tropical storm season.

Residents in the coastal areas from Whim Creek to Coral Bay, including Karratha, Dampier, Onslow and Exmouth have been advised by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) to evacuate their homes and seek safety elsewhere as it upgraded Narelle to a category four tropical cyclone.

As of 2am WST (5am AEDT) Friday morning, Narelle was spotted 570km north of Exmouth and 515km north northwest of Karratha. It was moving southwest at 16km/h.

"The cyclone is obviously intensifying, it has been moving slow but its picked up speed. People in Onslow and particularly Exmouth and Coral Bay need to be very aware that we've got some strong gusty winds coming. I certainly wouldn't be out in them because you certainly can't predict what's going to happen," Les Hayter, information officer of WA's State Emergency Service, told ABC News.

Australian oil producers Woodside Petroleum, Apache Corp and BHP have temporarily cut off oil production vessels from offshore fields such as Cossack, Pyrenees, Van Gogh, Enfield and Stybarrow, in anticipation of the potential damage onslaught. Rio Tinto has likewise has suspended ship loading at the ports of Dampier and Cape Lambert.

"Due to the sea conditions, the port authorities have closed the ports at Dampier and Cape Lambert," Reuters News quoted an unidentified Rio Tinto spokesman.

"As a result, Rio Tinto ship loading operations have been suspended. All other operations, including mining, rail movements, car-dumping and other port operations, are continuing as before," the spokesman added.

The BOM expects gales with gusts to 100km/h to develop in coastal areas between Whim Creek and Exmouth on Friday afternoon, then move south to Coral Bay on Saturday morning.

On Thursday, Apache suspended the Stag and Van Gogh oil fields. Chevron has likewise started evacuating workers from Barrow Island.

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