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Battered Fiji braces for the worst of Cyclone Evan

Published: 5:58AM Monday December 17, 2012 Source: ONE News

An already battered and bruised Fiji is being warned to brace for winds of up to 275 kilometres per hour as the eye of Cyclone Evan passes over the country.

Winds of up to 200 km have already hit Fiji, uprooting palm trees, ripping roofs off houses, and causing widespread power and water shortages.

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More than 3,000 Fijians are believed to have taken shelter at refuge centres while authorities have ordered people to stay at home. Public transport services have been suspended for the night.

Fijian Metservice Sangay Prakash said heavy winds between 60-110 knots had hit the Nadi and Lautoka area with "destructive force".

He said further damage was likely as Cyclone Evan was expected to bring stronger, hurricane-force winds when it passed over tonight.

Stranded New Zealand tourist Pauline Beissel told ONE News she was waiting out the storm in her Nadi holiday accommodation.

"The winds haven't picked up to the point where they are supposed to be so we're predicting the windows will smash and it's likely the roof will come off as well."

Nadi resident Paula Greenville said they had prepared for the worst as a four metre surge of water was predicted to hit the low-lying area.

"Denarau harbour has not a boat in it, so looks very surreal. They have all taken shelter up in the mangroves around Denarau," said Greenville.

The cylcone has already caused flooding in the township or Rakiraki, in the Yasawa Islands, after a river burst its banks.

Heavy rain and strong winds are still being experienced in the district, and Rakiraki Town is also closed for business, reports the Fiji Times.

ONE News reporter Paul Hobbs said there was debris all over

"I can't see a single living sole out and about. It's just incredibly dangerous to be out anywhere in the open at the moment."

Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed 526 Kiwi tourists are registered as being in Fiji.

Cargo ship runs aground

A cargo ship has run aground on the edge of the reef in Suva Harbour after attempting to battle the strong winds.

The Fiji Times reports the Starford ship, believed to be carrying equipment for a Chinese railway company, dragged its anchor at 11.30am and was pushed on to the reef close to the entrance of the harbour.

The storm has already battered northern parts of Vanua Levu with gale force winds and heavy rain knocking out power to some areas and causing flash flooding.

The strong storm winds are expected to be felt until Thursday when the cyclone is due to ease away.

The cyclone's path is set to take it to the west of the main islands with Yasawa Island and the Mamanuca group expected to feel the strongest of the powerful winds.

Storm and gale warnings have been issued across much of the rest of the country.

Close to its centre the cyclone is expected to have average winds of up to 185 km/h with momentary gusts to 270 km/h, and forecasters warn the destructive winds may begin several hours before the cyclone centre passes overhead or nearby.

Weather experts are predicting flash floods and mud slides with low lying islands in danger of being completely submerged.

Hobbs said people have taken the warnings of the cyclone seriously.

"Cyclones come here almost on an annual basis and there's a tendency or a possibility that people can get a little complacent but the warnings here have been very severe, they've seen what's happened in Samoa, so people are very guarded and are taking precautions," he said.

Air Pacific and its domestic arm Pacific Sun have cancelled all flights in and out of Nadi and Suva today, as has Air New Zealand. It is likely flights will not start operating again until late tomorrow morning.

Weather forecasters are predicting a weaker Evan may hit New Zealand towards the end of the week.