- Cyclone Gita located 60 kilometres south-southwest of Ono-I-Lau
- Hurricane warning remains in force for Ono-I-Lau and Vatoa
- Strong wind warning remains in force for the rest of Fiji
- Villagers in the path of the cyclone have been advised to move to higher ground now.
By Rachna Nath
Cyclone Gita is now on the doorstep of the island nation of Fiji as locals report strong winds and powerful swells are beginning to batter the small island nation.
Fijian Waisale Naga, who is on the main island, said winds were beginning to build in strength and the swell of the ocean was continuing to get stronger.
"The wind is starting to pick up. It is very different now.
"The sea is reasonably rough and that changed in the last hour or so. "
Television and radio was still working.
Naga was in his "secure home" with three other families from his neighbourhood.
"My house is very secure."
His house was operating as one of three evacuation centres in the area.
He said he had an ample supply of food and water to ride out the storm, as well as a generator to power his house.
The last time Fiji experienced a Tropical Cyclone of this magnitude was two years ago, when 44 people died, more than 50,000 Fijians were displaced, 240 schools were completely or partially destroyed - all with a staggering damage bill of more than NZ$2 billion.
The National Disaster Management Office says they have activated their "National Emergency Operations Centre" in the capital to monitor efforts of all relevant authorities.
Director Anare Leweniqila told the Herald the islands of "Ono-I-Lau and Vatoa" were now in the red zone and remained their main priority. These islands are expected to face Category 5 winds from early this afternoon.
A post office, health centre and school have been turned into evacuation centres in Nukuni Village, where villagers are now taking cover on the island of Ono-I-Lau. The highest point on the island is 10m high and villagers here have been urged to remain in the evacuation centres until Cyclone Gita passes over.
Leweniqila says they have made contact with the "Turaga-Ni-Koros", or village heads on "red zone islands" and have cautioned them to fasten their homes or immediately move to higher ground.
Strong winds are already being felt by those in the direct path of Cyclone Gita. The Turaga-Ni-Koro of Nasau, Nabukalevu and Kadavu told the Herald winds were strong and fast picking up.
"We have secured our homes and moved our livestock into shelters. We only hope and pray that the cyclone spares us and does not destroy our village or plantations. Cyclone Winston was terrible and we can now only hope and pray we are saved."
The Fiji Meteorological Service has issued a Hurricane warning in force the two main islands on the trajectory of Cyclone Gita.
At its centre, the cyclone is expected to have average winds up to 195kmh, moving west at about 25kmh.
About 67 coastal communities across Fiji have already been heading to higher ground and preparing for the arrival of severe tropical Cyclone Gita.
The Fiji Meteorological Service has put Ono-i-Lau, Vatoa and the Southern Lau Group on high alert as the cyclone moves towards the group.
Cyclone Gita tore through Tonga overnight, injuring people and destroying buildings with winds gusting up to 280km/h and waves over 11m. Tonga's parliament house is one of the buildings destroyed.
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A strong wind warning is in force across Fiji as the system moves west at about 25kmh. Gusts are expected to increase to 295kmh by midday today.
Fiji's Disaster Management Office has arranged to set up 67 evacuation centres in the Lau Group and is expected to activate these centres before night fall, reports the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.
Commissioner Eastern Luke Moroivalu said villagers "are on preparation mode and perhaps tonight they may move to the community halls, to the evacuations centres, if they feel that they should go up there for preparedness."
Moroivalu adds they are closely "monitoring the situation" and will seek help from the "Fiji Military Forces and the police" if the situation deteriorates.
Schools directly in the path of Cyclone Gita have been ordered to shut down and parents have been advised to keep their children at home for their safety.
All schools on the islands have further been advised to fasten all "loose structures, trim overhanging tree branches and fill and secure water tanks.
The Education Ministry is pleading with families to stock up on emergency supplies and place shutters over windows and doors as Cyclone Gita intensifies over the day.
With heavy rain forecast, the weather office in Fiji has warned of flooding in low-lying areas and advised coastal communities and those close to rivers to take all necessary precautions.
Fiji Red Cross secretary general Filipe Nainoca said they would likely be unable to travel to the island group from the main island Viti Levu until Thursday or even Friday.
"We expect the islands to be inaccessible today and tomorrow," he told the Herald.
"They are closer to Tonga than they are to Viti Levu.
"On Thursday we might be able to do air surveillance, but we will have to wait for the waves to settle before we can get there by boat."
There were about 400 people living on both Oni-i-Lau and Vatoa, the islands likely to be hit the hardest.
"The main problem is they are low-lying attols and will be greatly affected by storm surges. There could be issues with shelter and water supplies becoming contaminated with sea water. That was a major problem in similar islands during Cyclone Winston.
"Winston was a category 5, and this is category 4. We hope it stays that way, or even goes lower.
"Everyone in Fiji is watching, and is very concerned."
The evacuation centres were in schools and halls, and other areas on high ground.
"They are already feeling the winds there now. A big problem is the cyclone is moving slowly, meaning the strong winds could hang around there all day tomorrow."
Fiji Red Cross was preparing supplies and volunteers to head over to assist as soon as the cyclone had passed.
After Cyclone Gita hits Fiji it will track over open water towards New Caledonia and Norfolk Island. It still forecast to grow into a category 5 cyclone.
WeatherWatch has predicted that Cyclone Gita is likely to swing out into the Tasman Sea then curve back around a make a direct hit into New Zealand. However it is not known whether it will retain its storm conditions. It could make landfall in New Zealand any time from this Sunday to next Wednesday.