17 Jan 2020

Evacuation centres opened as Cyclone Tino slams Fiji

4:54 pm on 17 January 2020

All schools in Fiji's Northern and Eastern divisions have been closed as Fiji's second largest island of Vanuau Levu prepares for Cyclone Tino to make landfall.

Damage near Oinafa Wharf on Rotuma.

Damage near Oinafa Wharf on Rotuma. Photo: Facebook / Christine Ravoi

As of late Friday afternoon, the category one cyclone, with winds of up to 100km an hour, was 210km north-northwest of Labasa, heading towards the town.

The cyclone is forecast to make landfall about 6pm local time and traffic is reportedly busy around Labasa as people head home to prepare for the brunt of the storm.

The cyclone has already passed over the northern island of Rotuma, damaging the Oinafa Wharf, although a resident told RNZ Pacific that everyone was safe and there had been minimal impact apart from the uprooting of a few trees.

Evacuation centres have been opened in Fiji's north and people are being told to hunker down.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway in Tonga with the capital, Nuku'alofa, sitting directly in Tino's path. Further north, Tuvalu has been hit by storm surges and flooding with debris blocking many roads.

The storm is forecast to intensify into a category two cyclone overnight.

Tropical Depression TD04F, which is forecast to become a cyclone by Friday 17 January, was about 330km west of Rotuma in Fiji at 6pm on Thursday 16 January.

Cyclone Tino. Photo: Fiji Meteorological Service

Warnings had been issued for much of Fiji, with torrential rain, strong winds, and damaging swells forecast.

Stephen Meke, a forecaster with the meteorological service, said people had been told to prepare.

"The Ministry of Education has shut down all schools, the evacuation centres are open as well. So everyone - they are aware that there's a system around," he said.

This forecast track of Cyclone Tino shows it passing over Vanua Levu and Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

This forecast track of Cyclone Tino shows it passing over Vanua Levu and Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa. Photo: Fiji Meteorological Service

After crossing Vanua Levu, Tino would continue to strengthen to a category two as it crossed the Lau group towards Tonga's southern islands.

In Tonga, preparations were underway for its arrival on Saturday, authorities said, with the main island, Tongatapu, in the firing line.

It's nearly two years since Tongatapu was devastated by the category five Cyclone Gita, with the recovery from that still underway.

Mr Meke said while Tino would not have the same strength of Gita, it could still be quite damaging.

"With the cyclone coming down there's also an associated convergence zone that's coming with it, and that convergence zone should bring a lot of damaging gale force wind over the Tongas and it could even extend to Niue," he said.

Tonga's Minister of Disaster Management, Poasi Tei, said everyone must heed warnings and official advice as the kingdom prepares for Cyclone Tino.

During a National Emergency Management Committee meeting, concerns were raised by some members on the level of adherence to warning by local communities.

Mr Tei said it was critical everyone took heed of warnings, as it was critical people prepared while there was still time.

Mariners should avoid going out to sea in small fishing boats as the sea would get rougher: "They should instead look at securing their boats and preparing their families."

The minister said people should also stop going to the waterfront or swim in the sea and those in low-lying areas needed to start preparing to evacuate their homes because the heavy rain would bring flooding.

"We need to get families ready with their food stock, water and the essentials because if the cyclone gets to a certain stage Tonga Power Limited will turn off the water supply and there might also be cuts to water supplies in some areas."

The Director of Meteorology Ofa Fa'anunu told the NEMC this morning that Cyclone Tinos was expected to develop into a category two cyclone as it moves towards Tonga.

Mr Fa'anunu said they predicted Cyclone Tino would reach Tonga's waters by Saturday morning.

He said the cyclone could also increase to category three.

Meanwhile, Saturday's Aircalin return flight between Noumea in New Caledonia and Wallis has been cancelled due to the cyclone.