Thousands of Australians are among those bracing for the onslaught of tropical cyclone Evan, which is bearing down on Fiji after cutting a swath through Samoa last week.
The category four storm is expected to pack wind gusts of up to 270km/h and is forecast to pass just north of Vanua Levu Island on Monday and reach the tourist centre of Nadi late on Tuesday, according to the Fiji Meteorological Service.
All domestic and international flights to the Pacific Island nation have been grounded and thousands of people are bunkering down in evacuation centres.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Sunday night said there were 2100 Australians registered as being in Fiji, although the actual numbers of Australians there was expected to be higher.
More than 180 registered schoolies who travelled to Fiji’s popular Mana Island and Plantation resorts are believed to be among those Australians stranded in Fiji. However, the largest provider of schoolies celebrations in Fiji, Unleashed Travel, said it had evacuated all of its 500 customers from the country yesterday.
Managing director Jot Lynas said the final 10 of Unleashed Travel’s schoolies and 10 staff left Fiji on Sunday and spent the night in Auckland. They were expected to arrive in Australia early on Monday.
“There are 2000 people [Australians] still there in Fiji, but we managed to get all of our kids out and home,” he said, adding that it was the first time his company had had to organise an evacuation of this magnitude.
“It wasn’t easy but we were really happy with the fact that we could get everybody out and home.”
At 6.30am on Monday [AEDT], tropical cyclone Evan was 170 kilometres north-north-east of Nadi.
According to Fiji Live, 2534 people were bunkered down in 31 evacuation centres overnight, and power was out in parts of Labasa, in the northern part of the island of Vanua Levu.
Among the buildings without power were the Labasa Corrections Facility and the local barracks.
Robbie Gillespie, the programs director for Save the Children in Fiji, said he had spoken to his staff in Labasa, who reported very strong winds and rain since about 10pm on Sunday.
“The storm is relatively slow moving so this should persist for most of today,” Mr Gillespie said from his base in Suva.
“We haven’t got any damage reports as yet, flooding will be an issue for low laying areas when the high tide comes later today.
“A number of evacuation centres have been activated.”
Four people died and eight fishermen from three boats are still missing after the cyclone ripped through Samoa last week.
The New Zealand Air Force and the French Navy are searching for the fishermen. The 30-year-old skipper of one of the boats managed to get ashore after his boat capsized but authorities are yet to interview him.
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