Another cyclone bears down on west Australian coast


SYDNEY (AP) — Residents of Australia’s northwest coast were bracing for a torrid night of fierce winds and heavy rain on Sunday as the country’s second major cyclone of the weekend slowly wound toward land.

A day after Cyclone Trevor hit a remote part of the Northern Territory coast, slow-moving Cyclone Veronica settled just off the coast about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the west, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia state.

While that area is also lightly populated, residents were warned that because the cyclone was moving unusually slowly — at less than 1 kilometer (half a mile) per hour — they would likely have to shelter for several hours.

A Category 3 storm on a scale in which 5 is the strongest, Veronica had winds of up to 220 kph (136 mph).

It initially had been forecast to strike the coast on Sunday afternoon, but its movement slowed appreciably for several hours, its center sitting some 30 kilometers (18 miles) out to sea as coastal areas were battered by wind and rain.

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James Ashley, a senior forecaster from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said Veronica was unique because of its slow speed, which would bring a long danger period.

“We are expecting a prolonged period — 12 hours or more — of destructive winds near the core of the cyclone,” Ashley said.

On Sunday evening, the Bureau predicted Veronica would weaken and start heading west, passing briefly over the coast as a Category 1 storm near the town of Dampier on Monday afternoon, before heading back to sea.

Some 60,000 people live in the area most affected by Veronica, but the region is said to be generally well prepared for cyclones.

With Trevor downgraded on Sunday to a tropical low pressure system as it moved inland, the more than 2,000 people evacuated from Northern Territory coastal areas in its path began moving back home.

Officials were awaiting word on any damage to property and livestock. Flood warnings were still in effect for inland areas as the system moved southeast.

Cyclones are frequent in Australia’s tropical north but rarely claim lives. Still, two large storms such as Trevor and Veronica hitting on the same weekend is rare.

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