14 Jan 2011

Cyclone Vania intensifies as it heads to New Caledonia

6:29 am on 14 January 2011

The Fiji Meteorological Service says Cyclone Vania has now been upgraded to hurricane force as it heads towards the main island of New Caledonia.

The Category 3 cyclone has now passed over the Loyalty Islands and is expected to move over the main island at about 5pm this evening local time.

The services tropical cyclone forecaster, Misaeli Funaki says the system has weakened as it made landfall in the last few hours but once it clears that it is expected to intensify as it moves further south.

"We've upgraded Tropical Cyclone Vania into a Category 3 which means its now into the hurricane force category. With that we are expecting winds of greater than or approximately 65 knots, approximately within 30 nautical miles of the centre, storm force winds within 50 nautical miles, and gale force winds are only limited to certain sectors."

Misaeli Funaki says they have issued wind warnings for those areas.

The French High Commission has declared an orange cyclone alert for the southern half of New Caledonia's main island effective from five am local time.

This means schools and shops will have to remain closed

A red alert is still in force for the Loyalty Islands to the east, which means everybody has to remain inside and all movements are prohibited .

The High Commission says from 6am local time people living in squatter settlements will be progressively evacuated.