Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Fiji braced for severe tropical cyclone

Cyclone Winston photographed by NASA on 19th of February. Photo / NASA
Cyclone Winston photographed by NASA on 19th of February. Photo / NASA

Fiji is bracing itself for a severe tropical cyclone set to pass directly over it tomorrow.
Cyclone Winston reached a category 5 status - the most ferocious of all storms - as it passed the Vava'u group of islands in Tonga tonight.

Its intensity is forecast to remain as it travels towards Fiji, with destructive winds of between 205km/h to 285km/h forecast to arrive tomorrow night.

A warning hast been issued by the Fiji Meteorological Service, estimating the cyclone system would be about 140km east-northeast of the nation's capital, Suva, by 6pm tomorrow, local time.

"Destructive winds may begin several hours before the cyclone centre passes over head or nearby," the advisory said.

Small islands to the east of the capital, including Vanuabalavu, Yacata, Mago, Cicia, Tuvuca, Nayau, Koro, Gau and Vanuavaut, are expected to see "very destructive hurricane force winds" with average speeds of 205km/h, heavy rain and thunderstorms.

Damaging heavy swells with sea flooding of low lying areas is also forecast.

Cyclone Winston has already caused damage in parts of Tonga, where it passed the Vava'u today.

Vava'u resident Mark Belvedere, owner of the Eueiki Treasure Island Eco Resort, told the Herald tonight they were facing a big clean-up over the weekend, after the cyclone took a handful of their bungalows.

"We had a little fale at the bottom of the dock that was flown away and a couple of bungalows have gone. Trees are down and there are a lot of coconuts on the ground - there's a tremendous lot to clean up.''

Mr Belvedere said in the town area, powerlines had gone down and buildings badly damaged.

Despite that, he said, they were feeling lucky.

"It feels like we've made it. We've got some damage, but it's a beautiful area here and the downs come with the ups."

So far, there is no sign Winston will head towards New Zealand. Forecasters here say a high ridge over the country over the next few days will bring fairly settled and fine conditions this weekend and through to next week.

- NZ Herald

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