Cyclone intensifies as it heads towards Fiji

A tropical cyclone bearing down on the South Pacific island nation of Fiji has intensified into a category-four storm, the second most powerful cyclone, with destructive winds up to 200km/h.

Cyclone Daman is expected to hit the nation’s second largest island Vanua Levu early on Saturday, officials said, as people began moving to higher ground and securing their homes and animals.

Fiji’s director of meteorology Rajendra Prasad told local media that Daman had increased in intensity and was “just one category short of being a super hurricane”.

“It’s moving at a very slow pace and this is a very stubborn hurricane,” Prasad said.

Vanua Levu, with a population of about 360 000 people, is in the north of the Fiji island chain and has only limited tourism development, unlike the country’s main island Viti Levu and its internationally renowned island resorts off its west coast.

Fiji media broadcast warnings to residents on Friday to prepare for destructive winds, widespread flooding of rivers and high seas along low-lying coastal areas.

“A warning to everyone listening, Hurricane Daman is changing its direction quiet rapidly and is intensifying as it heads towards Vanua Levu. Take precautions now,” said one broadcast. “Mariners do not go out to sea and people are advised to prepare for the worst.”

Airlines operating in Fiji have cancelled some international and domestic flights due to the cyclone, reported local media.

“There are many people in town today, mostly buying household items and canned food in preparation for the coming hurricane,” said Sanjeet Maharaj in Rkiraki, on Viti Levu’s north coast.

The Australian government issued a travel advisory telling its citizens holidaying in Fiji to identify cyclone shelters and contact families at home.

“In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe cyclone may not be available to all who may choose to stay.
You should review and follow hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans,” said the advisory by the Foreign Affairs Department.

“You should carry your travel documents at all times or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts.”

Strong winds from Cyclone Daman swept a passenger ship onto a reef near the outer Rotuma island in Fiji’s north-west on Wednesday night, local media reported.

“It is now stuck on the reef and we’re still trying to find ways to pull the ship off the reef,” said Josefa Tuamoto from Blue Lagoon Cruises Limited. The 12 crew were safe and still on the vessel, which had not suffered any major damage. - Reuters

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