Fijian authorities scrambled to evacuate residents from low-lying areas Sunday as a monster cyclone threatened the Pacific nation with “catastrophic damage” after causing widespread devastation in Samoa.
At least four people were killed when Cyclone Evan slammed into Samoa and the toll was expected to rise as a search was launched for eight men still missing on three fishing boats.
Only one survivor has been found, the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which is overseeing the search, said.
After crossing Samoa, Evan intensified as it ploughed through the Pacific and forecasters said destructive winds could reach nearly 300 kilometres per hour by the time it hits Fiji early Monday morning.
Government officials fear it could be as devastating as Cyclone Kina which killed 23 people and left thousands homeless in 1993.
Squally thunderstorms were expected to flood low-lying areas while coastal villages were at risk of sea flooding, authorities said.
Tourists in luxury resorts on outlying islands were being ferried to the mainland, while Fiji’s main airline, Air Pacific, said it had either cancelled or rescheduled its Monday flights.
Philip Duncan, head analyst with the WeatherWatch.co.nz meteorological service, said Fiji could expect to be walloped by the storm with the prospect of flash flooding and mudslides.
“Gusts may end up climbing to 280 kilometres per hour or greater around the centre of Evan,” Duncan said. “Some small, low-lying communities and resorts may suffer catastrophic damage and some small islands may be entirely submerged as the storm and storm surge roll by.”
More than 200 evacuation centres have been opened and Information Ministry permanent secretary Sharon Smith-Johns said people at risk should move.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that about 500 Australian teenagers, in Fiji on "schoolies" holiday, are at Nadi airport trying to get flights home before the cyclone hits on Sunday night and Monday.