Fiji’s Disaster Management Office is anticipating Tropical Cyclone Gita to make landfall in Fiji by 6pm, with wind-speeds gusting over 275km/h.
Gita hit the islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua as a category-four storm with winds of up to 230km/h.
It’s expected to strengthen to a category five during today as it moves towards Fiji. The last time a category five cyclone hit the Pacific was in February 2016 when Cyclone Winston killed 44 people in Fiji.
A hurricane warning remains in force for Fiji’s southern Lau group. Ono-i-Lau and Vatoa are expected to be hit with average wind speeds up to 195km/h gusting up to 275km/h, Fiji Meteorological Service said.
Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office urged people on the islands under threat to move the elderly and disabled to evacuation centres before midday today.
NDMO said main urban areas like Suva face a lower level treat from Cyclone Gita but people should be taking precautionary measures and still prepare for gale force winds.
Its director Anare Leweniqila said the cyclone would reach Fijian waters about 2pm, and two islands in Fiji’s southern waters were in the cyclone’s direct path, putting 2500 people living on Ono-I-Lau and Vatoa at risk.
“We have identified two islands in the southern Lau group that will be facing a direct hit, that is Ono-i-Lau and Vatoa and surrounding nearby islands will be likely to be facing a storm wind.
“Those two islands are likely to be facing the cyclone, the Cat 5, the full brunt of the Cat 5 winds.”
He said preparations were well underway with evacuation centres identified and food and water supplies being gathered.
Mr Leweniqila said huge storm surges were anticipated and the three Ono-i-Lau evacuation centres are located inland from the coast.
The islands are set to face periods of rain and squally thunderstorms, and damaging heavy swells with sea flooding of coastal areas.
The service warned destructive winds were likely to begin several hours before the cyclone passes overhead or nearby.
Fiji’s Meteorological Service said sustained windspeeds near the centre of Tropical Cyclone Gita are expected to reach 215km/h, gusting to 295km/h by midday as it moves towards southern Fiji.