Cyclone Winston: Fiji braces for monster category 5 tropical cyclone

February 20, 2016 6:21 am

•Ferocious category 5 storm tracking towards Fiji
•”The biggest and fiercest storm in the world right now,” says WeatherWatch
•Gusts of up to 315km/h and hurricane-force winds of more than 220 km/h are expected
• Strong winds are already being felt
•Some islands evacuated, and flights and sailings cancelled

A monster category 5 tropical cyclone – “the biggest and fiercest storm in the world right now” – is barrelling towards Fiji, and meteorologists fear it could be a killer.
As islands are evacuated and flights and sailings cancelled, strong winds are already being felt and forecasters warn that much worse is on the way.

The Fijian Government has issued a total public curfew across the country from 6.00pm.
Fiji’s National Disaster Management has advised that a total curfew will take place until further notice.
The latest measure is designed to restrict movement and ensure the safety of all Fijians. Only essential services will be permitted to travel.
Fiji’s Meteorological Service says gusts of up to 315km/h are expected when Tropical Cyclone Winston bashes its way through the Pacific nation.
In Auckland, WeatherWatch analyst Philip Duncan has labelled it “the biggest and fiercest storm in the world right now”.
He said if the forecasting models were correct, the cyclone would sit over water, which was not good.
“Sometimes a direct hit by the eye can weaken the storm once it hits land … but when it’s out at sea and it brushes a country like that, it can remain at full strength.”
The United States-based Joint Typhoon Warning Centre is predicting an even fiercer storm than Fijian authorities are forecasting. The centre is picking maximum sustained winds of 295km/h and gusts of up to 360km/h.

Residents of Fiji’s two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, are being warned to prepare for what could be the most powerful cyclone ever to pummel their country in its recorded history.
It’s feared, however, that locals in the capital, Suva, on Viti Levu, may not be taking the warnings seriously enough, as the city has rarely experienced a really damaging storm.
Some predictions for the cyclone’s path put it making landfall in Suva, or passing close by.

“Most of the people in Suva are under the misapprehension that Suva doesn’t get cyclones, that it’s only the north and the west of the country that seem to get them and the ones that come past Suva are weak and insipid,” Fiji Met Service meteorologist Neville Koop told Australia’s ABC .
“This is the exception to that – it’s probably one of the strongest cyclones to affect the capital in the last decade or two.”
Mr Koop added: “The potential for devastation is high and there is a very real risk that people will lose their lives.”
Aid agency Unicef said the cyclone was due to pass over Suva and “the risk of disaster for children and families is high”.
At noon today local time (1pm NZT), Winston was about 30km east-south-east of Taveuni, or around 235km east-north-east of Suva, the Meteorological Service said.

“On this track, the cyclone is expected to be located about 270km west-north-west of Lakeba or about 130km north-north-east of Suva at 7pm [8pm NZT] today and about 415km west-north-west of Lakeba or about 140km north-west of Suva at 7am [8am NZT] tomorrow.
“Very destructive winds may begin several hours before the cyclone centre passes overhead or nearby.”
At 4pm local time (5pm NZ time) Cyclone Winston was tracking to pass Fiji further north than first thought, which places it not only right amongst the most popular parts of country but it also keeps the cyclone in the highest category, Category 5.
Watch said the storm has “staggeringly low” air pressure at 917hPa and it is still dropping meanwhile winds are averaging 230km/h and gusting to 325 to 350km/h or even higher, according to some models.
The weather service said there was a chance the storm could ‘wobble’ a bit from the predicted course – but the window for change has almost closed.
Residents of Vanuabalavu, Yacata, Mago, Cicia, Tuvuca, Naya, Koro, Gau, Vanuavatu, Taveuni, Qamea, Laucala, Ovalau, Wakaya and the southern half of Vanua Levu have been told to expect “very destructive hurricane-force winds” as well as heavy rain and squally thunderstorms, damaging sea swells and flooding.
Lakeba, Oneata, Moce, Komo, Namuka, Ogea, Moala, the rest of Vanua Levu and nearby smaller islands, Vitu Levu, Yasawa and the Mamanuca group have been told to expect destructive storm-force winds, with average speeds of 110km/h and gusts of up to 155km/h, heavy rain and squally thunderstorms. There is also a risk of damaging heavy sea swells and flooding in low-lying areas.
The Met Service classed the tropical cyclone as “severe”, and said it was expected to intensify as it moved west.
Strong winds are already being felt on Koro Island in the Lomaiviti group, the Fiji Times website said.
Cyclone Winston has already wreaked havoc in Tonga. Photo / Supplied Cyclone Winston has already wreaked havoc in Tonga. Photo / SuppliedBale Rokodi of Tuatua village on Koro Island said people remained in their houses and no one had moved to the evacuation centres provided by the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO).
The Times said there had also been reports of damage to farms in Kabara, Lau, from strong winds.
Filipe Jitoko, speaking to the newspaper from Lomati village, in Kabara, said strong winds had destroyed banana crops and newly planted cassava.
Villagers had been advised to stay indoors, he said.
Some are being evacuated. Peace Corps volunteer Luigi Zeccardo said he and his colleague had already been flown from Koro island.
The weather turned bad very quickly as they were waiting for the plane to pick them up, he said.
Over the course of an hour, a thick blanket of fog came down, winds increased and it was almost impossible to see.
Cyclone Winston has already caused damage in Tonga, where it passed the Vava'u group of islands. Photo / Supplied by Oxfam NZ Cyclone Winston has already caused damage in Tonga, where it passed the Vava’u group of islands. Photo / Supplied by Oxfam NZThe plane had to make a couple of attempts to pick them up from the grass landing strip, which is on a slope, but they were now safely back in Suva, Mr Zeccardo said.

Kiwis hunker down

Aucklander Ben Rose is on holiday with his wife, Ashlee, at the Sofitel on Denarau Island near Nadi and the couple are preparing to hunker down in the resort overnight. The storm is expected to hit the area between 10pm and midnight.
Guests have been told to take the duvets and pillows from their rooms to the ballroom in the main building from 7pm local time (8pm NZ time). They will spend the night there, with any staff who haven’t been sent home.
“It’s going to be like an old-fashioned camp, marae style,” Mr Rose said.
The 38-year-old said staff were boarding up windows and moving all the outdoor furniture indoors.
There was a mixture of fear and nervous excitement around the hotel.
“I’m semi-excited but scared. It’s quite cool to be part of an event like this. It’s not every day you get locked down on holiday. But we’ve been watching videos of the storm hit some of the other islands and it looks pretty gnarly.”

Flights cancelled

Meanwhile, flights have been cancelled for holidaymakers heading to or returning from Fiji after Virgin Australia determined flying conditions were unsafe.
The airline has suspended services between Nadi and Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane today and tomorrow, and Monday’s flights are under review.
Many of Fiji Airways and Fiji Link’s international and domestic flights have been cancelled or delayed by up to eight hours.
Fiji Airways said this situation was likely to last a few days.
“Current weather models indicate the Fiji group is expected to receive destructive winds and heavy rain starting early Sunday morning up until early next week,” a statement said.
“To assist passengers affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston, Fiji Airways and Fiji Link is extending a waiver of fees.

“This weather waiver applies for passengers holding a valid ticket issued on or before February 19 for travel between February 19 and February 25.”
Air New Zealand has cancelled all its five flights in and out of Nadi this evening and tomorrow due to the severity of the storm.
The airline said it was continuing to monitor the situation and would decide tomorrow afternoon whether two flights on Monday would also be cancelled.
It said travellers whose bookings were affected by the ferocious storm could change their flights without penalty.
“People who bought tickets before and including Thursday, for flights to Fiji, Apia, Niue and Tonga scheduled prior to and including Tuesday, can defer or bring forward the trip up until Monday, February 29 without penalty,” Air New Zealand said on its website.
“Or if the proposed date of travel is unknown, then the value of the ticket may be held in credit for payment towards travel within the same 12-month validity.”
Normal refund rules would apply, including that non-refundable fares remained non-refundable.
The airline advised passengers to keep an eye on the arrivals and departures and travel alert pages on its website.
South Sea Cruises has cancelled sailings between islands until Tuesday, the Fiji Times reported.
All-day cruises and Mamanuca resort transfers had been cancelled for tomorrow and Monday, it said.
Awesome Adventures Fiji has also suspended all trips to the Yasawas from tomorrow through to Tuesday.
In Auckland, WeatherWatch said Winston was now a “monster category 5 storm” and in the service’s latest modelling, it had shifted its path directly into Fiji.

This was a “nightmare forecast” for the country.
“The computer models have struggled with Winston, and there’s certainly a chance the storm could ‘wobble’ a bit from the predicted course – but the window for change is getting smaller and smaller with each passing hour.
“To add to the seriousness, the track of Winston is now looking further north than previous days. This places it not only right amongst the most popular parts of Fiji, but it also keeps the cyclone in the highest category – Cat 5.”
Winston had a “staggeringly low air pressure” of 920hPa, with winds averaging 220km/h and gusting to 315km/h.
“There remains a threat to New Zealand due to the nature of this storm, which is now backtracking – but the focus this weekend is on Fiji,” WeatherWatch said.
“If today’s modelling is correct, then Winston may still impact the North Island next Friday or Saturday.”
MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray said the u-turn Winston took after it barrelled through Tonga was not unusual, despite some reports to the contrary.

Kiwis advised to stay informed

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has updated its travel advisory for Fiji due to Cyclone Winston to ‘high risk’, and is advising Kiwis not to travel to Fiji.
Currently there are 186 New Zealanders registered with MFAT as being in Fiji.
“New Zealanders in Fiji are strongly encouraged to register with on MFAT’s and should follow the advice of the local authorities at all times, including any evacuation orders, and seeking suitable shelter and keeping their family in New Zealand regularly informed of their well-being,” a spokesman said.
“New Zealanders planning on travelling to Fiji in coming days should contact their airline or travel agent directly to check on potential disruptions to flight schedules.
“We now advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to Fiji.”
“We recommend you stay informed of developments by monitoring local news and weather reports,” Mfat said on its website.
Save the Children said it was concerned for families and youngsters in Fiji as Winston approached.
New Zealand chief executive Heather Hayden said emergency supplies were already there, to help people who needed assistance immediately after the storm.
“We are monitoring the situation in Fiji and are ready to provide assistance as soon as we receive a call,” she said.
Unicef New Zealand executive director Vivien Maidaborn said that with the one-year anniversary of Cyclone Pam – which devastated Vanuatu – approaching next month, the impact of a category 5 cyclone was “still fresh in all of our minds”.
Unicef is poised to distribute emergency supplies from Suva and Nadi, including health kits, school tents, water containers, purification tablets and tarpaulins.
Alice Clements, a New Zealander working for Unicef in Suva, said they were hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
“For the last few days we have been sharing emergency preparedness messages encouraging people to take precautions ahead of the cyclone hitting this weekend.
“Unicef is also working closely with the Government of Fiji and the National Disaster Management Office as well as partner organisations to ensure a co-ordinated response, if required, once the cyclone has made impact.”
In Tonga, Winston destroyed around 10 houses on Vava’u and damaged 200 more, Tonga’s Emergency Management Office said.
Unicef said a rise in possible Zika cases was a major concern following the cyclone.
“With the mess left behind by a cyclone, the health situation could get worse – especially with a new abundance of standing water, in which mosquitoes breed.”
A road traffic curfew has been put in place in Fiji.
Fiji’s Land Transport Authority has advised buses, minibuses and taxi operators to cease services, the Fiji Times reported. It is also advising the public to stop using the roads by 5pm local time (6pm NZT).
The Fiji MetService has advised seafarers to avoid the ocean due to hurricane-force winds and heavy seas.
In the north, town and shopping centres have been closed since 2pm, the Fiji Times reported.
Churches in Fiji are suspending services tomorrow as the storm nears.
Methodist Church general secretary Reverend Dr Epineri Vakadewavosa told the Fiji Times the decision was for the safety of members.
“We urge our members to exercise caution and common sense with regards to Sunday worship this weekend. I encourage our members to hold family devotion at home tomorrow.”
If you have concerns about a New Zealand citizen family member in Fiji, try to make direct contact with them first, and if you have ongoing concerns, contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on (04) 439-8000 from within New Zealand or +64-4-439-8000 if calling from overseas.
This photo taken off the island of Tavenui shows a home with its roof ripped off as Winston's Northern Eye Wall scraped by the Island earlier today. Photo / NaDraki Weather Facebook This photo taken off the island of Tavenui shows a home with its roof ripped off as Winston’s Northern Eye Wall scraped by the Island earlier today. Photo / NaDraki Weather Facebook

“We can’t afford to be complacent”

Meanwhile, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has warned that his country faces “an ordeal of the most grievous kind” as moves though the Pacific.
With islands already being evacuated, flights cancelled and warnings of winds of up to 315km/h, Mr Bainimarama is calling for people to pray for Fiji and pleading with his countrymen to be prepared.
This afternoon, the PM urged anyone who fears their home cannot “withstand the onslaught” to seek help immediately.
And in a chilling warning, he expressed grave concerns for the lives of people who were still not taking notice of the seriousness of what is about to hit.
“As a nation, we are facing an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We must stick together as a people and look after each other. Be alert and be prepared,” Mr Bainimarama said.
“I urge you all, if you haven’t already done so, to finalise your own preparations to survive this terrible event. We cannot afford to be complacent.
“I am especially concerned that some people in urban areas of the country in particular do not appear to have heeded the warnings about the seriousness of the threat we all face.”

Mr Bainimarama said evacuation centres were prepared to help those who needed it.
“I want to assure the nation that the Government is thoroughly prepared to deal with this crisis. Our evacuation centres are fully operational,” he said.
“If you have any doubts about the ability of your own home to withstand the onslaught, I urge you to seek shelter where you are most likely to be safe, and our officials can assist you.”
Expressing particular concern for the wellbeing of children and old people, the Prime Minister warned of projectiles flying through the air. He urged people to stay inside.
“I ask parents to be especially careful of the young and the elderly. Do not allow anyone to go outside during the storm itself. The threat of being hit by flying debris is extremely high,” he said.
“By now, you should have done all you can to secure your property. Make sure you have adequate food and water, flashlights, candles and lanterns in case the power supply is disrupted, and a battery-operated radio to keep abreast of news of Cyclone Winston’s progress.”
Mr Bainimarama closed his public address by calling for divine intervention.
“Let us all pray for our nation, ourselves and each other and ask God’s blessing on our beloved Fiji.”

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