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Fiji's Meteorological Service says hurricane-force winds from Cyclone Gita may gust to to 295 km/h as the storm reaches the southern islands.
It's expected to strengthen to a category five today as it moves towards Fiji tonight. The last time a category five cyclone hit the Pacific was in February 2016 when Cyclone Winston killed 44 people in Fiji.
Gita earlier hit the islands of Tongatapu and 'Eua as a category four storm, with winds of up to 230km/h.
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 of up to 195km/h, gusting up to 275km/h, Fiji's Meteorological Service director Ravind Kumar said.
Kumar said a a storm warning was also in force for the remaining islands in the Southern Lau Group.
He also said there was a gale warning in force for Matuku, Totoya, Moala, Kadavu and the nearby smaller islands of Lakeba and Nayau.
Gita could remain at Category 5 for up to 48 hours bringing extremely destructive winds,Kumar said.
“They are destructive hurricane force winds with average speeds of 195km/hr and momentary gusts up to 275km/hr close to the centre. as we anticipate it to further intensify the winds are expected to increase to 215km/hr and momentary gusts to 295km/hr.”
There is a strong wind warning remaining in force for the rest of Fiji, Kumar said.
The National Disaster Management Office says they have activated their “National Emergency Operations Centre” in the capital to monitor efforts of all relevant authorities.
Director Anare Leweniqila told the NZ Herald the islands of "Ono-I-Lau and Vatoa" were now in the red zone and remained their main priority. These islands are expected to face Category 5 winds from early this afternoon.
A post office, health centre and school have been turned into evacuation centres in Nukuni Village, where villagers are now taking cover on the island of Ono-I-Lau. The highest point on the island is 10m high and villagers here have been urged to remain in the evacuation centres until Cyclone Gita passes over.
Leweniqila says they have made contact with the "Turaga-Ni-Koros", or village heads on "red zone islands" and have cautioned them to fasten their homes or immediately move to higher ground.
Strong winds are already being felt by those in the direct path of Cyclone Gita.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/NZ HERALD/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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