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Cyclone Pounds Australian Coast

March 22, 1999

PERTH, Australia (AP) _ Winds of up to 140 mph flattened homes, downed power lines and destroyed vehicles today as a cyclone tore across Australia’s northwestern coast.

A man who had refused to evacuate the area near where Cyclone Vance made its landfall was missing and presumed dead.

As it moved inland, Vance was packing winds of 140 mph, making the most potent Category 5 storm. It slowly lost some force in the evening. Cyclone is the term used for a hurricane in the Indian Ocean.

The town of Exmouth, 780 miles northwest of Perth, bore the brunt of the damage with 112 homes destroyed and a trailer park flattened. A third of the town’s houses sustained structural damage, State Emergency Services regional director Ross Holmes said.

At Onslow, 80 miles northeast of Exmouth, half its 840 residents were evacuated and there were reports of widespread flooding and property damage.

The coastal region is relatively sparsely populated, but it is a center for mining. Four oil and gas and mining operations were forced to close, and the ports of Port Hedland, Cape Lambert and Dampier suspended operations.

At Exmouth’s destroyed trailer park, employee Graham McGuiness described the aftermath after riding out the storm in a shower building.

``A lot of power poles in the (trailer) park are down, a lot of the vans have been destroyed, blown away completely,″ he said.

Exmouth resident Maureen Graham spoke of violent winds all morning. ``We’ve been up here for 29 years and it’s by far the worst we’ve been through,″ she said. ``Our patio’s been absolutely demolished and the ceilings from our carport are in the middle of the road.″

The Exmouth power station was shut down Monday for safety reasons. It sustained flood damage, with water seeping through the building, a spokesman said.

Onslow remained on alert. There were early reports of flooding and structural damage to homes, the State Emergency Services said.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s regional director Len Broadbridge said Vance was now expected to charge inland through the goldfields and exit to the south of the continent.

Gale force winds and rain were also expected along a 370-mile coastal strip from Onslow to Denham.

Update hourly