The Associated Press -Dec. 14, 1999

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Packing wind gusts of up to 185 mph, the most
powerful cyclone ever recorded in Australia lashed the northwestern coast
Wednesday, damaging homes, forcing evacuations and ripping up trees.  There
were no immediate reports of injury. Cyclone John moved over land near the
tiny community of Whim Creek early Wednesday morning, bringing driving rains
and powerful gusts that caused power outages and drove hundreds of people
from their homes.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Brian Bowase said it was "unequivocally"
the strongest to Australia since the government began keeping records.
"We're looking at winds of almost 300 kilometers (185 miles) an hour and
quite frankly, that's bloody unbelievable," he said, referring to the gusts.
The bureau declared the cyclone a category-five, the most powerful.
Telephone service was knocked out in Whim Creek, 750 miles north of the
Western Australia state capital, Perth.  The storm was heading south
southeast at 8 mph. Storm surges of up to 20 feet were expected to cause
heavy flooding in sparsely populated low-lying costal regions, the State
Emergency Services warned. Two evacuations centers were set up in the town
of Karratha.  Jim McDougall, assistant manager at the Mercure Inn in
Karratha, said palm fronds had begun to blow off trees and the rain was
coming in horizontally. "No one has been through one this big.  I just hope
the roof stays on," he said.  "There's not much you can do, just wait it
out." Kevin Richards, a top Karratha city official, compared the strong
winds battering the town to the sound of "a never-ending freight train."
Roofs had been damaged, trees uprooted and power lines were down, Richards
said. "They have had a very lucky escape," he said.  "I guess they could
think Christmas has come early for them."

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