Authorities in Vanuatu are prepared for the worst today as Cyclone Pam, category 5, currently moves in.
Tropical Cyclone Pam is moving slowly on a southerly track towards the Pacific nation, with winds of about 280km/h.
The storm is likely to have winds gusting 330km/h near its centre when it passes east of Vanuatu’s capital, Port Villa, later today.
David Gibson, acting director of Vanuatu’s meteorological department, said consistent forecasts were pointing to Pam intensifying into a category five storm.
“This is the first time that we will experience such cyclonic intensity if it eventuates based on the forecast track,” he told the ABC.
“All preparations are underway to inform everybody about this.
“If the forecast track keeps further to the east, then we may get some gales, but if it changes and moves much closer, more southward, there is a possibility that we may get more damaging storms and storm-force winds for the central and southern islands.”
Vanuatu’s government has issued cyclone warnings for Torba, Sanma, Penama, Malampa, Shefa and Tafea provinces.
It warned that torrential rainfall and flooding, including flash flooding were likely over low-lying areas, river banks and near coastal areas.
There was also the risk of landslides, the government said on its meteorological website.
Jotham Napat, chairman of Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), said potential evacuation centres were being identified across the country.
“We are requesting our police officers to move into different communities to let them know they need to be evacuated to certain areas; we’ll be using mostly the churches and the public buildings,” he said.
Residents in Port Vila have been boarding up windows and stocking up on supplies in preparation for the arrival of cyclone Pam.
But Mr Napat said police had to tell female vendors at the city’s markets to go home on Thursday.
“We see that it’s more appropriate for them to go home and prepare for the cyclone,” he said.
“We have already seen some good reactions from the government, particularly informing all the civil servants to close the office and get themselves ready.”
Tropical Cyclone Pam is not expected to directly affect Fiji.
“However, associated active rain bands will bring heavy rain over the country with possibly strong and gusty north-west winds,” Fiji’s government said.
“A heavy rain warning remains in force for whole of the Fiji group. Heavy rainfall may cause flooding, especially in low-lying areas.”
Fijian education minister Mahendra Reddy has ordered schools across the country to close on Friday.
– Weatherzone/ABC and WeatherWatch.co.nz
– Map: Vanuatu Meteorological Services