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Thousands flee as cyclone slams into Fiji

Posted 45 minutes ago A powerful cyclone is battering Fiji's northern islands, damaging homes and crops as thousands of people flee to evacuation centres. Fiji's Meteorological Service says Cyclone Tomas is classified as a category-four cyclone - the second-most destructive on a five-point scale - and is packing winds averaging up to 175 kilometres per hour. There are no early reports of casualties, although reports said one woman drowned over the weekend in stormy seas. The cyclone is expected to intensify later today and into early Tuesday, with average wind speeds rising to 200kph, and gusts of up to 270kph.

Fiji Disaster Management Office director Pajiliai Dobui says about 5,000 people have moved into evacuation centres in the northern part of the country, especially on the second-largest island of Vanua Levu. "Our worry is how devastating the cyclone will be," he told Fiji commercial radio, adding it was likely to be the most powerful storm in recent years.

The head official in the northern region, Inia Seruiratu, says weather conditions have worsened dramatically during the day. "You can see trees swaying and likewise the electrical wires and cables that are running between the poles," he told state radio, adding that conditions would be worse in other areas. Officials say communications have been lost with smaller islands closer to the eye of the cyclone. There are reports of damage to homes, other buildings and crops, and Vanua Levu is without power today. On its present track, the eye of Cylone Tomas is expected to pass to the east of Vanua Levu and the largest island Viti Levu, although many smaller islands will be close to its path. Fiji's main centres were put under curfew overnight on Sunday. This was lifted during the day, except in the northern region, but is set to be reimposed nationwide tonight. Schools have been closed and most public services suspended throughout the country.

-AFP ABC Radio Australia

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