14 Jan 2011

New Caledonia on alert as cyclone expected to intensify

9:29 am on 14 January 2011

The main island of New Caledonia is now on orange alert as Cyclone Vania is crossing the Loyalty Islands.

The cyclone is expected to intensify as it heads towards the mainland.

Walter Zweifel reports.

"First reports from the Loyalty islands say the cyclone caused damage to the vegetation. However, a red alert is still in force meaning that people have to stay inside. Warnings have been issued to stay clear of power lines that in places have been blown down. The system is slow moving and although its winds have weakened they are expected to intensify again. The southern half of the main island has been on orange alert since 5 am this morning, prompting the gradual closure of schools and businesses. Some bus services and four international flights have been cancelled. The authorities have also decided to evacuate people from the capital's squatter settlements."

Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office has not been able to make contact overnight with the areas thought to be worst hit by Cyclone Vania.

Communication channels have been down because of the storm which pummelled Tafea province with winds of up to 140 kilometres per hour.

The National Disaster Management Office says the alert has now been lifted for Vanuatu.