New Zealand newlyweds have spent the last night of their honeymoon bunkered in a room with 230 other scared tourists as Cyclone Pam lashed Vanuatu.
Mandy and Richard Hurring had spent a "perfect" week of their honeymoon in Vanuatu, but last night the romantic holiday came to an end holed up in a cyclone shelter in the Holiday Inn, Port Vila.
The Hurrings were due to fly out from Port Vila today and Mrs Hurring had been told they might be evacuated off the island today by military plane or on to a cruise ship if one managed to get into port.
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ministry of Defence said a mission to collect stranded tourists was unlikely.
Mrs Hurring said she had been told it was one of the worst storms the Pacific Islands had ever seen. "They're expecting a complete loss of infrastructure."
Branches were falling from trees and the rain was heavy hours before the peak intensity was expected to hit the capital of Vanuatu, about 11 o'clock NZT last night.
Tourists at their resort were "nervous", Mrs Hurring said, but locals were "blase".
Mr Hurring had paid a taxi driver to drive to a village and bring back the family of a worker from their resort to ensure they were safe from the storm.
"They were going to ride it out in their little village, which would be flattened," Mrs Hurring said.
She said the last few days of her honeymoon had been "a bit of an adventure" and now she was anxious to get home to New Plymouth.
Vanuatu Meteorological Service director David Gibson said devastating winds of up to 200km/h were expected to lash the island nation.
"Hurricane force winds of this magnitude are going to cause a lot of damage," he said.
The course of the cyclone was subject to change and it was too early to tell whether there would be loss of life, Mr Gibson said.
He said people had a lot of time to prepare and warnings of the cyclone began last week.
New Zealander Kylie Steel was in Port Vila for a conference and yesterday the group she had travelled with had bought extra wet-weather gear with the knowledge they might be in a disaster zone when they leave today.
"We're aware that there might be a lot of debris and raw sewage and stuff like that," Ms Steel said.
The hotels, shops and businesses in Port Vila all had hoardings on their windows in preparation for cyclone Pam's arrival, which was expected to be about 11pm NZT.
Ms Steel said the hotel she was staying in was boarded up and people staying there had been told not to go outside until today.
"I feel safe and I feel like the guys I'm with are going to be safe. Our biggest risk is probably the ocean, because we're right on the water."
Amy Cray, a New Zealander living and working in Vanuatu, said she had moved to a motel room that felt secure and stocked up on supplies.
"It is pretty wild and windy out there, similar to the storms I had growing up on the west coast of New Zealand," she said.
Solomon Islands news agencies had reported many buildings were destroyed and crops decimated by very heavy rain from the cyclone.
MFAT advised New Zealanders in Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia to follow the advice of local authorities and seek shelter, and warned flights would be disrupted.
An MFAT spokesman said New Zealand had considered sending a plane to affected areas with relief supplies, but it was currently only an option and had not been confirmed yet.
It would not be surprising if a plane was sent with supplies in a few days, however.
There were no current plans to send aircraft to collect stranded people, the spokesman said.
A spokesman for Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee said while there had been a New Zealand search and rescue plane in the region today on other business, it was not designated to pick up New Zealand tourists from islands such as Vanuatu.
The minister's office had not heard of any requests to send aircraft to pick up people, he said.
Civil Defence warns of severe weather
The Civil Defence is advising people to be prepared for Cyclone Pam.
Auckland Civil Defence controller Clive Manley said Aucklanders should exercise caution as the region could be hit by severe weather tomorrow evening.
"Current weather forecasts suggest areas north of Whangaparaoa and on Great Barrier have a reasonable chance of river and stream flooding, strong winds, large swells, waves and coastal erosion," he said. "Surface flooding and slips may make driving difficult from Sunday evening until Tuesday. There may also be local power cuts."
It was a good time to check emergency survival kits and update household emergency plans. Based on the latest forecast tracks, the category 5 storm is expected to move east of East Cape on Monday before passing near the Chatham Islands on Monday night. People in and around Gisborne, the East Cape and Hawkes Bay should keep an especially close eye on weather forecasts as Pam approached, MetService said.
Gisborne Civil Defence spokesman Richard Steele said residents should be prepared for strong winds, large sea surges, coastal erosion, rain and power cuts, and expect road closures.
Civil defence tips
• Listen to local radio.
• Make sure you have enough water and food to last three days.
• Treat all power lines as live at all times.
• Clear gutters and drains on your property.
• Have matches ready to light gas appliances.