Powerful cyclone misses most of Fiji

A powerful cyclone packing winds of up to 250km/h pounded some small islands in northern Fiji, but missed heavily populated areas in the South Pacific nation as it swung away to the south-east, officials said on Saturday.

Cyclone Daman remained a category-four storm, forecaster Daini Donu said, “but it’s now tracking east-southeast at 18km an hour and its slowly weakening” as it moves toward the Tonga islands.

“We have just issued a tropical-cyclone alert for central and southern Tonga—it’s expected to reach there in the next 24 to 48 hours,” she said.

Worst hit on the northern Fiji island was Cikobia, which bore the full brunt of the storm as it passed over it during the night.

Fiji disaster-management officials lost all contact with Cikobia as the cyclone hit the island with winds at its centre gusting to 250km/h.

“Some 65 people evacuated to caves [on Cikobia] and houses were flattened this morning, but we have no reports of any deaths or injuries,” Donu said.

Cikobia, a small northern island, has a population of about 100 people.

“There’s a lot of destruction of houses, vegetation and garden crops,” Disaster Management Office spokesperson Viliame Puimanu said.

A government patrol boat with emergency supplies was to travel to the island on Saturday afternoon, and a plane was being sent to carry out an aerial survey, he said.

People in the Lomaiviti and Lau island groups and on Vanua Levu—Fiji’s second main island—escaped serious damage and there have been no reports of injury so far, he noted.

“It’s very much a huge relief, especially since there’s no major damage” to most of the country’s northern region, Puimanu said.

As Daman sideswiped the Labasa area of northern Vanua Levu, landslides sparked by heavy rain closed some highways, flooding hit low-lying areas, and gusting winds destroyed trees.

Donu said by the time the cyclone reaches the Tongan islands “its wind intensity will be down to storm force—50 to 60 knots [88km/h to 106km/h] and gusting up to 105 knots [185km/h]”.

“At that point it will be a category-three storm,” she said, adding Tonga “should also expect heavy rain at times and squally thunderstorms”.

About 110 000 people live on Tonga’s three main island groups of Vava’u, Ha’apai and Tongatapu.

Tropical storms are common in the South Pacific from November to April and range from category one to five.—Sapa-AP

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