16 Mar 2010

Thousands of people shelter in evacuation centres in Fiji

11:22 am on 16 March 2010

The number of people sheltering in evacuation centre in Fiji is now 10,000 after Cyclone Tomas battered the country overnight.

The storm is now moving slowly towards the Lau Group after causing havoc in places like Cakaudrove and Macuata on Vanua Levu.

Our correspondent Vijay Narayan says communication in Vanua Levu has been cut off with parts of the island still without power and water.

He says officials still don't know how much damage has been caused by the storm.

"We have been able to get a causality count, we haven't been able to get damages assessment reports as winds are still very strong there and officials are awaiting for the winds to die down before assessments are carried out."

Vijay Narayan says a curfew imposed for people's safety overnight has now been lifted but schools are still closed.

Meanwhile, the centre of the cyclone is now about 240 kilometres from Fiji's capital, Suva.

A senior forecaster with the Fiji Met Service, Matt Boterhoven, says Tomas is a powerful storm, averaging wind speeds of 175 kilometres an hour.

We had a report this morning from Lakeba, one of the bigger islands out in the Lau group, that two villages were flooded, people had to be moved to higher ground and Ovalau the sea wall had been broken and that had never been broken before. So a lot of flooding, sea flooding is occurring, the system is causing a significant impact in the northern and eastern part of the Fiji group.

Matt Boterhoven says Cyclone Tomas could strengthen further.