13 Jan 2011

Loyalty Islands on red alert for cyclone

10:22 pm on 13 January 2011

New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands are preparing to go on maximum alert as Tropical Cyclone Vania makes its way slowly south-westwards from Vanuatu.

The territory's eastern-most group will go on red alert on Thursday night and people must stay inside until the cyclone has passed, Radio New Zealand International reports.

Authorities in New Caledonia are warning that Vania is a direct threat to the Loyalty Islands from Thursday night and to the main island on Friday.

Businesses and schools have been forced to close and people are being asked to secure their properties, take shelter, keep away from beaches and exposed places, and listen to the radio.

The Vanuatu Meteorogical Service says the cyclone is predicted to maintain its south-westerly direction and intensify by early Friday, before weakening as it moves over cooler watern nearing the main island's southern tip.

Tourists on the island of Lifou are preparing to be evacuated inland, away from high seas and strong winds.

Tropical Cyclone Vania has pounded Vanuatu's islands of Tanna and

Erromango and there have been unconfirmed reports of damage to housing and vegetation.