Thousands of people fled to evacuation centres in Fiji on Monday as authorities warned to “prepare for the worst” from a powerful category four cyclone bearing down on the Pacific nation.
Power outages and flooding were reported on the main island of Viti Levu as Tropical Cyclone Evan approached, with all flights to and from Fiji cancelled as a precaution.
At least four people were killed when the cyclone slammed into neighbouring Samoa late last week and the Fiji government said it was taking no chances, shifting tourists and residents from low-lying areas.
“Members of the public are advised to prepare for the worst,” spokeswoman Sharon Smith-Johns said, adding that 3,500 people were sheltering in evacuation centres and the number was expected to increase.
Officials said storm warnings were in effect for the entire nation and all non-essential public servants had been told to stay at home but there were no reports of injuries or deaths.
They said the category four cyclone was about 85 kilometres off Nadi, site of the main international airport, and could intensify as it approaches the coast, packing winds of 270 kilometres per hour.
It is expected to skirt Nadi, which was swamped by another cyclone that killed five people in April, and head southwest, generating 12 metre swells that could exacerbate flooding at high tide at 10.00pm.
The cyclone is thought to be the strongest to threaten Fiji since Cyclone Kina, which killed 23 people and left thousands homeless in 1993.
Relief agencies were still assessing damage to remote islands in Samoa, where the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre is overseeing a search for three boats carrying eight men that failed to return from fishing trips on Friday.
Rescue coordinator Geoff Lunt said there had been no sighting of the boats and debris from the cyclone was creating difficult search conditions.
“There is a lot of flotsam in the ocean which makes the visual search quite challenging but the aircraft will be coordinating their efforts to ensure the search area is thoroughly covered,” he said.