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Friday December 7, 2007

Fiji braces as Cyclone Daman intensifies, heads toward populated island groups

MYT 10:39:36 AM

NADI, Fiji (AP) - A powerful tropical cyclone packing wind gusts up to 250 kilometers an hour (155 miles an hour) headed Friday toward northern Fiji, where islanders braced for heavy rain and coastal sea surges overnight, officials said. 

Cyclone Daman, rated a category 4 cyclone by the South Pacific nation's Nadi Meteorological Center, was expected to cause "major flooding'' and "pretty serious damage'' to islanders' houses and to low-lying coastal areas after smashing ashore later Friday, senior forecaster Matt Boterhoven said. 

Fiji Disaster Management Office director Joeli Rokovabe said people in the Lau and Lomaiviti island groups, and on Fiji's second main island of Vanua Levu, were being advised to move from coastal areas to cyclone shelters and other secure buildings. 

"It's most likely going to be one of the severest cyclones to hit the country in recent times,'' Rokovabe told The Associated Press. 

On its present track the cyclone will pass over the Lau and Lomaiviti island groups, home to 10,000 people, and across the Labasa area of Vanua Levu where 80,000 people live, he said. 

Boterhoven said that as, "the storm tracks south it could take out a lot of the small island groups.'' 

"Wind gusts of up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) an hour are going to take out a lot of those lean-to houses and have pretty serious affects,'' he said 

People around the towns of Labasa, Savusavu and Nabouwalu on Vanua Levu were at risk, as were a number of tourist resorts, he added. 

"We hold very serious concerns for the safety of the people there,'' Boterhoven said, with the cyclone forecast to dump up to 250 millimeters (10 inches) of rain. 

In 2003 the lower-intensity Cyclone Ami killed 18 people in Labasa as it dropped heavy rains that caused major flooding, Rokovabe said. 

Tropical storms are common in the South Pacific from November to April and range from category 1 to category 5. The most powerful can pack sustained winds of 210 kilometers (130 miles) an hour. - AP

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