Two people have died while more than 2,000 people take refuge in evacuation centres, as Tropical Cyclone Sarai continues to hurl heavy rain and wind across Fiji.
Vasiti Soko, director of Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), told reporters at 8:00pm (local time) that an 18-year-old student drowned after being swept away by strong currents while swimming in waters on the southern island of Kadavu.
Ms Soko also confirmed that another unidentified man earlier reported as missing, was swept away by strong currents while attempting to cross a flooded road in Vunidawa, Naitasiri province, located on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.
Tropical #Cyclone #Sarai is indicating some significant strengthening this morning local time, explosive deep convection is wrapping around the center and a large eye is appearing on the satellite imagery. Could boost its intensity in the coming hours! image: NOAA pic.twitter.com/d0uf7PuDAd
— severe-weather.EU (@severeweatherEU) December 27, 2019
Updates from the NDMO said 2,121 people were in 55 evacuation centres across the country.
The category-two cyclone has not been forecast to make landfall, but is expected to be within 90 kilometres of Kadavu Island by 1:00am Sunday.
“For Kadavu, Vatulele and Matuku: Expect Destructive storm-force winds with average speeds of 110 kph with momentary gusts of 150 kph,” the Fiji Meteorological Service said.
It added that Kadavu, Vatulele and Matuku should also expect sea flooding at high tide, periods of heavy rain, and sudden thunderstorms.
Residents of Viti Levu and nearby smaller islands — including the Lau group —have been warned to expect heavy winds of up to 85 kph with momentary gusts of 110 kph today, along with high seas and “periods” of heavy rain and thunderstorms.
The Met Service continues to update local conditions across Fiji via its Facebook page.
— The Fiji Times (@fijitimes) December 26, 2019
Tropical Cyclone Sarai is expected to leave Fiji’s area of responsibility by New Year’s Day, moving on to Tonga later on Wednesday.
Tonga’s Meteorological Service has forecast that Sarai will hit the kingdom’s northern Vava’u island group by Thursday.
The service has issued a tropical cyclone alert which carries a strong wind, rain and flash flood alert for all Tongan land areas.
Meteorologist Neville Koop, who is based in Fiji’s capital Suva, told the ABC the remaining Fijian Kadavu and Lau island groups in the cyclone’s path were much more vulnerable to disasters because of their remoteness.
“They’re much more difficult for us to access and to take supplies and assistance to if they get severely affected later today and tonight,” Mr Koop said.
Local authorities have raced to evacuate people from low-lying areas at risk of flooding.
Earlier on Saturday, the NDMO’s Ms Soko told those remaining in low-lying areas to move to their nearest evacuation centre with enough food supplies to last 48 hours.
Members of the public have also been advised to check their emergency contacts and nearest evacuation centre and to prepare an emergency kit containing items such as bottled water, batteries and important documents in a waterproof bag.
Ms Soko confirmed that police would be stationed at every centre to assist evacuees, while Fiji’s Health Ministry also confirmed that measles vaccinations will be carried out in each centre.
Earlier in the day, more than 130 Fiji Airways flights were cancelled for 48 hours.