14 Jan 2011

New Caledonia prepares for intensifying cyclone

11:06 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."

A resident on the outskirts of Noumea says people on the mainland are taking the threat of Vania seriously as memories are still fresh of Cyclone Erika which killed two people and caused widespread damage in 2003.

Tuo Chinula says many are staying at home preparing in case the orange alert is raised higher.

Erika was a big lesson for a lot of people. In the last couple of days everybody's been stocking up on basic supplies such as water, candles in case the electricity goes and batteries as well to listen to their radios because we have to listen to the radios as they're making announcements.

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Tuo Chinula says there've been some power cuts, heavy rain and wind so far.

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.