Cyclone Tomas, classified as a category-four cyclone (the second most destructive on a five-point scale) is battering Fiji, with winds averaging up to 95 knots ( 175km/hr).
The storm was classified as a category-four cyclone – the second most destructive on a five-point scale – with winds averaging up to 109 miles an hour, the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) said. The cyclone was expected to intensify in the next 48 hours, with average wind speeds rising significantly.An estimated five thousand people have fled their homes to take refuge in 90 hurricane-proof buildings in the northern part of Fiji’s second-largest island Vanua Levu.
Pajiliai Dobui, Fiji Disaster Management Office director, said the storm was the most powerful the country had seen for several years. Officials said communications had been lost with smaller islands closer to the eye of the cyclone. There were reports of damage to homes, other buildings and crops, and Vanua Levu was without power. The Fiji Times reported that at least one person had died since the cyclone hit the Pacific nation.
The National Disaster Council, led by military leader and self-appointed prime minister Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, met as the category four Cyclone Tomas continued to batter the South Pacific nation.
“The National Disaster Council has declared a state of disaster in the northern division and eastern division,” National Disaster Management Office operations officer Anthony Blake said.
“We have so far got a tally of over 50 homes destroyed – a very serious issue. We expect these figures to increase for the next few days,” Mr Blake told reporters.
Fiji authorities had received reports of “a few” deaths in the devastating cyclone, National Disaster Management Office director Pajiliai Dobui said
“I think some lost their lives but it is just a few but what we have been hearing from some of the islands is the devastation and the wind and the storm surges were too much.
“Those who have experienced other cyclones say this is the longest and the strongest they have come across – and the most destructive,” Mr Dobui said.
He said the number of dead could not be confirmed by police until communications were restored with affected islands in the Lau group and the island of Taveuni, to the east of the main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. “We had a report this morning from Lakeba, one of the larger islands in the Lau group, that two villages were flooded and some people had to be moved to higher ground,” he told Radio New Zealand.
A sea wall also collapsed on another island in the group, he said.
“A lot of sea flooding is occurring and it’s causing a significant impact in the northern and eastern parts of the Fiji group this morning,” he said.
In a report filed by CC Contributor Jim Bandy (ALSO II), on ALSO Island, located in the Lau Group, he describes the devastation:
“The ALSO II has a big hole in the port side, and we can’t see the starboard side. Many of the boats we’ve built with and for the local fisherman have been destroyed. The Koko our 16 foot punt has broken up and we need to go look for the outboard. The ALSO V is still upside down in the water, and fortunately some of the others appear to be OK, as some were up on the hard. We have not been to the villages but, understand that all of the houses in Cawaro are down. Maybe most in Lagi too; what we can see of Qaranivia is still standing. The Police and Red Cross are using ALSO Island as Communication Central as there is no phones working and our email is the only way to get a message out. The Police boat is out on a tour to Cawaro, the School (Duavata) and Nukusa.In short it has devastated the place. A lot trees down, almost all vegetation damaged. Fortunately we have 20,000 liters of fresh water collected. We maybe can send the Lady K to Labasa later this week and get food supplies. Jim.”
Director of Meteorology Rajendra Prasad, said Tomas has continued to intensify a little more from this morning, with momentary gusts up to 125 knots (230 km/hr) close to the center. The cyclone is expected to reach peak strength in the next 12 hours.
TC Tomas was estimated to be generating waves of up to 24 feet (7.2 meters) near its centre, mariners were warned through the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.
Pajiliai Dobui, Fiji Disaster Management Office director, said the storm was the most powerful the country had seen for several years. Officials said communications had been lost with smaller islands closer to the eye of the cyclone.
He said damaging gale force winds extended to about 150 nautical miles (280km) from the center.
“TC Tomas has maintained a very slow southward movement all day today and is expected to continue moving south at this slow pace for the next 24 hours. Thereafter, it should curve south-eastwards and accelerate,” he said.
He said after the core of the hurricane force winds passed over Cikobia Island, Tomas should move southward onto eastern Vanua Levu, Rabi, Kioa, Taveuni, Laucala, Qamea and nearby islands overnight, before spreading to the Northern and Central Lau group tomorrow.
“High winds and very heavy rain is expected as the eye of the cyclone passes overhead or nearby,” he said. “Most of the Northern Division and almost whole of the Eastern Division should experience severe effects of the Hurricane including flooding from the sea due to storm tide (storm surge+ high astronomical tide) and wave effect (phenomenal seas and swells generated from high winds).”
TC Tomas is to continue drifting southwards (average speed of 05-07 knots) for the next 24 hours and thereafter curve slightly south-southeast, towards southern Tonga. It is expected to reach peak intensity tonight or early tomorrow, maintain it for about 12-18 hours, and undergo a very gradual weakening trend afterwards.
The projected path of TC Tomas takes it right across the Lau group tomorrow after its center passing just east of Vanua Levu and Taveuni tonight. As indicated earlier, most of the Northern Division and whole of the Eastern Division are expected to be severely affected by destructive Storm Force (48-63 knots) to very destructive Hurricane Force (over 63 knots) winds from the cyclone. The relatively slow movement of the cyclone will mean prolonged effect of both high winds and heavy rain.
As in the case of Cikobia Island, people can expect battering of their houses and shelters by high winds for 12 hours or more. Flooding from the sea due to TC, associated storm surge and wave effect should be a major concern for low lying coastal areas, especially at the time of high astronomical tide. From the Daily Telegraph, Fiji Times and the telegraph.co.uk