Fiji, Tonga batten down as cyclones gather pace

Suva: Fiji and Tonga issued severe weather warnings Tuesday as twin cyclones intensified near the Pacific island nations.

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The Tonga Metservice said Tropical Cyclone Zazu was a category one system, currently packing winds of up to 90 kilometres an hour (56 miles an hour), and expected to reach category two on Wednesday.

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Meanwhile, forecasters in Fiji said Tropical Cyclone Yasa had reached category three status as it rumbled off the coast of the main island Viti Levu, and could turn into a category five super-storm late Thursday.

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Authorities in both countries advised residents to prepare for strong winds and flash floods, with Fiji’s Disaster Management Office flagging possible evacuations later in the week.

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The New Zealand-based meteorological service Weatherwatch said the twin cyclones were unlikely to join up but their proximity to one another did complicate forecasting.

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“It makes it a little tricky to know exactly how close Yasa will get to Fiji – direct hit is the current thinking,” Weatherwatch managing director Philip Duncan said.

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The storms are the first to form in the South Pacific’s current cyclone system, which runs until May next year.

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The region was battered by Tropical Cyclone Harold in April this year, a category five storm that gouged a trail of destruction across the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga.

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Such top-of-the-scale cyclones were once rare but have become increasingly common in recent years, with Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama among those blaming the phenomenon on climate change.

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