By 3 News online staff / NZN
Cyclone Evan is just an hour away from crashing into Fiji’s most popular tourist spots.
The storm has been upgraded to a category five after the Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported wind speeds had increased.
They are currently at 213km/h, with gusts up to 259km/h.
There are reports of power outages and bridges being washed out. New Zealander Steve Delany told 3 News tourists had been told to “hunker down” and brace for the storm.
“I think the major concern is for the Fijians themselves who don’t have half the protection we have,” he said.
Fiji has already begun feeling the effects of the cyclone, with power cut to some parts of the country and flights grounded.
Nearly 400 people are holed up in seven evacuation centres in northern Fiji where strong winds and rain are battering the area, the Fiji Times is reporting.
The newspaper says Rakiraki, in the north of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, has been battered by 110km/h winds, while the outlying island of Yasawa has experienced gusts up to 130km/h.
Queues have formed at petrol stations in Tavua as people try to stock up on petrol and supplies before the worst of the storm hits.
The Fiji Meteorological Service says the cyclone is expected to pass just north of Vanua Levu Island and west of resort area Nadi today, before tracking southwest of the capital Suva tomorrow.
"Damaging" swells will hit some northern coastal areas and flooding is expected, it says.
The Fijian government and officials are preparing emergency supplies of food and water. Those in low-lying areas are being urged to take shelter on higher ground.
The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is urging people in Fiji to keep in touch with their family in New Zealand and follow the directions of officials.
There were 462 New Zealanders registered with MFAT as being in Fiji on Sunday, a MFAT spokesman told NZ Newswire.
Flights in and out of Fiji have been cancelled or delayed. Air New Zealand, Air Pacific and Qantas have all cancelled flights out of Auckland today. Air New Zealand has instead scheduled two flights with increased capacity from Auckland to Nadi tomorrow, weather permitting.
RESIDENTS PREPARE, TOURISTS MOVE INLAND
In the tourist centre Nadi, shop keepers have boarded up their stores to protect against the heavy wind and rain expected.
Tourists have been relocated from resorts to the mainland as Evan approaches.
"We are concerned about the capacity of this cyclone and have activated and mobilised our emergency response teams, disaster relief centres, police and military forces," said Elizabeth Powell, Tourism Permanent Secretary.
"The safety of our community and our international guests is our main concern, and we have established and stocked 300 emergency centres - should they be needed."
The military has imposed a curfew from 8pm to 6am, which it says is necessary to save lives.
New Zealanders in Fiji can get more safety information from http://www.safetravel.govt.nz.
WeatherWatch.co.nz says the storm is expected to weaken back to category four status with sustained winds of 194 km/h within the next 18 hours. A gradual weakening is forecast to continue after that.
NZ GOVT PLEDGES SUPPORT
Prime Minister John Key says the government is monitoring the situation in the Pacific, with the Air Force Orion originally sent to Samoa to carry out an aerial survey of the damage.
"It's a bit mixed there - there's some hope it mightn't be as bad as they originally thought, but then there's damage to other parts of the island that they didn't think had sustained damage," he says.
"Fiji, obviously, we're bracing ourselves, but in the end, New Zealand will need to give support."
Mr Key says that support will take "a number of forms", including money.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully on Saturday announced $50,000 had been made available to assist with the on-the-ground response, with damage to buildings, critical infrastructure and power lines, along with flooding, fallen trees and power outages.
Mr McCully may travel to Samoa later this week to view the damage firsthand, but says the government "would not want to impose any further burden during this time".
3 News / NZN
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