Category 4 storm bearing down on New Caledonia
Tropical Cyclone Donna appears to have weakened slightly after briefly becoming the strongest out-of-season storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.
A cyclone bearing down on New Caledonia in the South Pacific has been upgraded to a category five storm, the most destructive wind-speed level, authorities say.
Gusts close to the centre of Cyclone Donna were estimated to be as strong as 300 kilometres per hour according to the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards department, with the storm projected to make landfall late on Tuesday.
“There is enormous uncertainty about the speed and trajectory of Donna at the moment,” Olivier Ciry, from the Civil Defence and Risk Management Agency, said.
“We are unable to tell people how long they will have to stay at home for.”
The storm has whipped up huge swells in the Coral Sea, with the centre roughly 200 kilometres north of New Caledonia, and 350 kilometres west of the Vanuatu capital, Port Vila.
It was moving southeast at about 12 kilometres per hour.
Schools in New Caledonia were closed for a public holiday on Monday and would stay shut on Tuesday.
Domestic flights in New Caledonia and further north in Vanuatu have been cancelled.
Over the weekend the storm skirted to the west of Vanuatu, sparing the most heavily populated islands from any significant damage.
Locals said Port Vila had been hit with torrential rain and hotel staff had given guests candles and matches in case there was a blackout, as well as a sheet to cover windows that might shatter in the gales.
Donna is the third late-season cyclone to sweep through the Pacific, after storms Debbie and Cook pounded Australia and New Zealand.
Stephen Meke, a senior forecaster at the Fiji Meteorological Service said it was “very unusual” to see such a powerful storm well after the summer months have passed.
By Radio Australia, submitted by PIR Editor for Pacific Islands Report on 8 May 2017