Global miner Rio Tinto said on Tuesday its first-quarter iron ore production would be hit by a string of cyclones that swept through its mining operations in Australia last month.

We have only just regained momentum and our quarterly production report will highlight the impact, Rio Tinto's iron ore division chief, Sam Walsh, told an industry conference

Rio Tinto mines 225 million tons of iron ore annually, mostly in the Pilbara region of Australia, making it the world's no. 2 producer behind Brazil's Vale .

Australia's other big iron ore miners are BHP Billiton , and Fortescue Metals Group .

Those companies are also expected to show production was curtailed due to the storms, which flooded rail lines and forced ports to suspend operations.

The majority of the iron ore mined in the Pilbara is shipped to China, followed by Japan and South Korea.

Walsh also said damage from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan held wide implications for the mining sector.

The impact of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami have been many and diverse and they affect us, Walsh said. Some steel mills have suspended operations and suppliers of heavy equipment, such as Hitachi, have been impacted.

He also noted that large plants, including ones operated by General Motors were running out Japanese component parts.

There is a large reconstruction ahead, the magnitude of which is only just being realized, Walsh said.

Walsh later told reporters, Japan's disaster could set back some of Rio Tinto's expansion plans if access to mining equipment, such as heavy machinery and truck tires became difficult.

Until recently, Japan was the largest buyer of Australian ore, but has been supplanted by China, which boasts the world's biggest steel industry.

Walsh painted a bright future for iron ore producers, saying the outlook warranted spending billions of dollars to expand mines in Australia and build new ones in Africa and India.

The company's Simandou iron ore mine project in Guinea -- touted by Rio Tinto as the single largest iron ore mine -- would be developed ahead of the current end-2015 target date if infrastructure restraints such as rail line construction could be overcome, according to Walsh.

The mine will have an annual capacity to yield about 95 million tons of iron ore annually, he said.

Countering Walsh's positive outlook, Citibank analyst Daniel Hynes forecast the global iron ore market was headed for oversupply over the next few years and by 2015 would see a 100 million ton surplus.

He said this will be a result of large increases in production by Rio Tinto and other mining companies.

(Reporting by James Regan and Rebekah Kebede; Editing by Ed Davies)