SYDNEY, Feb 17 (Reuters) - A cyclone gaining strength in waters off northern Australia is threatening coastal mining sites operated by BHP Billiton, Glencore and Rio Tinto.
Meteorologists on Tuesday warned tropical cyclone Lam could generate winds up to 240 kph (150 mph) and heavy rains along coastal and island communities located in the Gulf of Carpenteria in the Australia's Northern Territory by the time the storm reaches land, possibly on Friday.
A BHP spokeswoman said the company was making preparations to halt manganese mining on Groote Eylandt if required and was working closely with local disaster officials as the cyclone gained strength.
"Our full incident response management team has been mobilised and our emergency services personnel are on standby," she said. "Our priority is ensuring the safety of the community, our employees and contractors and our operational assets."
Groote Eylandt Manganese Co (GEMCO), one of the world's largest sources of the mineral used in steel manufacturing, is 60 percent owned by BHP. South Africa's Anglo American holds the remaining 40 percent.
The longer the cyclone stays out over warm waters, the greater the chance it will intensify, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which is predicting it will be Friday at the earliest before the storm makes landfall.
Data supplied by the bureau at this stage shows the storm will lash the Gove bauxite mining business of Rio Tinto, as well as Glencore's McArthur River zinc and lead mine.
Details of preparations underway at both sites were not immediately available.
Last season, 10 tropical storms reached cyclone strength on the Australia's east and west coasts, just under the national average of 11. The last time the number of cyclones exceeded the national average was in 2005/06, when 14 cyclones were recorded, nine rated as severe.
Cyclones typically form near Australia between November and April and can disrupt shipping and mining, particularly iron ore on the west coast and coal on the east coast.
Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Michael Perry