South Pacific hit by cyclones
Thousands of Fijians have fled their homes as Cyclone Tomas sweeps across the island nation.
Tomas, a category four storm and bigger than Hurricane Katarina which destroyed New Orleans, is one of two powerful tropical cyclones that have formed in the South Pacific.
Ului, a category five storm, has brushed the southern Solomon Islands and is heading toward Australia but is expected to remain off the coast of the continent for at least the next few days.
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Tomas has an estimated average winds of 175kmh and momentary gusts up to 230kmh close to the centre, Fijian weather officials said.
Five thousand people have been already been billeted at 90 evacuation centres in Fiji's Northern division, where the cyclone had been situated for most of Monday, according to latest figures from the Commissioner Northern Lt Colonel Inia Seruiratu.
Lt Col Seruiratu said each centre had been provided security with a police officer and soldier to help maintain law and order. Everyone in the centres was safe and well and assistance of food could be delivered soon to the evacuees.
There are reports of thirteen homes being flooded on the island of Koro, where a sea surge has forced villagers to flea.
Fiji Times reported that 172 people, including 92 children, had been evacuated from Nasau village and moved to higher ground.
Strong winds have torn the roof off a hospital in Tavenui and toppled power poles in Labasa, where flooding had also forced evacuations.
Hospital staff were attempting to evacuate 18 patients from Tavenui Hospital and move equipment to an old hospital building, Fiji Times said.
People in the path of Tomas had been advised by authorities to take extra precautions and move to evacuation centers if necessary.
A spokeswoman for Fiji police, Ema Mua, told AAP the nation was undertaking last minute preparations for a "disastrous'' thrashing.
"We were looking at the difference between the forces of all the cyclones that have happened in Fiji,'' said Mua, as her colleagues hammered boards to windows.
New Zealanders in Fiji are being urged by the Government to register with the High Commission in Suva as Tomas hit the islands.
Prime Minister John Key said today about 450 were registered, but there were likely to be others who had not.
"The advice to New Zealanders in relation to Cyclone Tomas is that they should register and follow instructions issued by local authorities," he said at his post-cabinet press conference.
New Zealanders that haven't already to register their details with the Ministry of Foriegn Affairs's safe travel service can do so online: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/.
Mr Key said a tropical cyclone warning was in place for the entire Fiji island group. Nadi Airport was open, but all international flights, including some by Air New Zealand, were delayed or cancelled.
"It is anticipated the full impact of the storm will be felt later this evening or overnight," Mr Key said.
The Royal New Zealand Air force has aircraft on standby in case help is needed.
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Murray McCully said that despite the political tensions between Wellington and Suva, New Zealand was ready to help once the storm has passed.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands has largely avoided the monster storm Ului.
It brushed past the southern islands on Monday, but Solomon Islands Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates said there had been no reports of damage.
"They're experiencing really strong winds but it seems that at the provincial headquarters, the impact is not as bad as they had initially thought," Mr Yates told Radio New Zealand.
Ului is not expected to hit north Queensland in the next few days but is likely to whip up gale force winds in the region from Tuesday.
Ului was about 1450km northeast of Mackay at 1pm (NZT) on Monday and tracking west-southwest at 7kmh.
"It poses no immediate threat to Queensland and is expected to remain well off the coast for at least the next few days," senior forecaster Geoff Doueal said.
"The longer-term forecast track is still uncertain, but at this stage the most likely scenario is for the cyclone to remain offshore."
He said it was expected to remain at the same intensity, between categories four and five.
TOMAS' FIRST VICTIM
According to local media reports, Cyclone Tomas claimed its first victim on Sunday, when a 31-year-old Fijian woman was killed trying to save her family from being washed away in huge waves that crashed into the coast of Vanua Levu.
Tamarisi Tabua, 31, was with her family on the coast at Labasa taking part in a cultural ceremony.
The Fiji Times said waves hit her sisters Mereula and Alanieta Evans, nephew Mesake, 10, and niece Fulori, four, and swept them into the bay.
Alanieta, a former national netballer on holiday from England, told the Times they would have died if it had not been for her sister.
"When she got near to me, she threw my daughter to me then the sea swallowed her,'' Alanieta said.
'IT'S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL NOW'
In Tabiang village on Rabi, five houses have gone, a family contact told Stuff.
Families are gathered together in one house, under the care of a retired UN Fiji peacekeeper.
"He has them all gathered, now about 30 of them in his house and the last he told us they were building barriers with overturned beds and turned over a chest freezer to put the children into.
"The trees had already gone a few hours back so if the house holds up it will be a miracle. It's all about survival now."
The Wainiyaku Estate on Tavenuni, home to veteran Andrian Tarte, 84, was being hit this afternoon.
Mr Tarte's family say he has taken his boat out to sea.
"He always does this every cyclone and last cyclone ripped the whole roof off the boat. This is the worst cyclone Fiji has ever experienced and I just hope Adrian survives it.
"I have my daughter and family on the Taveuni farm as well and haven't been able to raise them either. Looks like all the wireless towers are all gone now."
Binati Sigrah of Taveuni Island said the storm was starting to hit them.
"It is very very bad," he said by phone.
On Rabi Island, closer to the centre, an unidentified man at a resort said the situation was extreme.
"It is terrible and the seas are enormous, lots of damage."
He did not know if anybody was hurt at this stage as no one had been outside.
"The worst thing has been its length, we have had this for two days or more."
Australian tourist, Clare Melvin, told AAP she was evacuated from her accommodation at Plantation Island on Sunday afternoon.
"They basically said to us, 'If you've got kids, you should go','' said Melvin, who has been holidaying in Fiji with her husband and two small children for a week.
"Everybody just jumped on this big boat and came back (to the mainland) and they just threw our luggage on the ground and we just all had to scramble for it.
"It was ridiculous.''
She said of the 120 mostly New Zealand and Australian people staying at Plantation Island, 76 had decided to head back to Nadi and stay at the Raffles Gateway Hotel on Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu.
Those who remained on the island would be huddled together in a conference room.
Melvin said everything in Nadi had been closed and people were preparing for the worst.
"All the Fijians are kind of freaking out themselves, you can tell, cause there's no animals around,'' the Sydneysider said from her hotel room.
"It's unusually still. It's really weird.
"It's just overcast and kind of dark, but yesterday afternoon the sky was a really strange colour, it was like dark orange and black.''
She said women were crying in the hotel lobby and everyone was"pretty scared''.
"Everybody's talking about where they're going to hide when it gets here. Do we go in the bathroom? Or do we go in a cupboard?
"There's people here who are stuck with five children under seven and they've got all their kids in one bed.
"I heard from a lot of Fijians and from the weather (forecast on the news) that they're predicting that this is the worst one Fiji's ever seen.''
Mua said a curfew was lifted on Monday morning to allow people to gather provisions but would be re-activated later in the day"for the safety of Fijian people''.
The Fijilive.com website has done a summary of events around the cyclone hitting Fiji.
They say in Lakeba in Macuata people are now sheltering in caves. Lakeba villager Kusima Kulivusu said the village headman made the decision early this morning as they are experiencing heavy rain and strong winds.
In Labasa, the main town on Vanua Levu, police are now closely monitoring the water level of the Labasa River as three major rivers which join the main Labasa River are now heavily flooded.
The major worry is around high tide at 7.30pm today.
In Anube outside Labasa many have lost their farms and livestock due to flooding. At Udu Point, near the Dateline homes are underwater.
Village headman Saula Tuiqalau said the church and the village hall which were supposed to be used as the evacuation centre, are also flooded.
The 50-year-old said it is the first time he has come across this experience where the sea wall was badly damaged and some trees in the village uprooted by strong winds from last night.
In Taveuni the strength of the wind has picked since this morning however there are no reports of damages and flooding so far. People are moving to higher ground.
In the Lau Islands villagers reported to Fijilive.com that heavy rain and strong winds were hitting them. Communications have now been lost.
In Savusavu Daku Resort staff member Keni Tadulala said the 21 British tourists are now in a secure villa and the other staff members are carrying out precautionary measures.
- with NZPA