Two Months After Winston, Fiji Braces For Another Tropical Cyclone

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Fiji is bracing for another tropical cyclone less than two months after Winston savaged the Pacific Island nation, and before many Fijians had even returned to their homes.

The tempest bearing down on Fiji today has been named Tropical Cyclone Zena, and is a category three storm at this stage. Close to its centre, Zena is estimated to have winds of 120 kilometres per hour, and gusts of up to 170 kilometres per hour.

It is expected to pass south of the main island of Vitu Levu in the early hours of Thursday morning, and pass directly over the island of Kadavu.

Tropical Cyclone Zena is gathering intensity, and Fijians are bracing for the worst as evacuation centres open and schools close. In its most recent update, the Fiji Meteorological Service warned “very destructive hurricane force winds may begin several hours before the centre passes overhead or nearby”.

Latest Fiji Met prediction of TC Zena's path.
Latest Fiji Met prediction of TC Zena’s path.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has issued a statement warning the storm “will add to the distress [already]being experienced by thousands of people across Fiji”.

“While the cyclone is not expected to pass directly over [Fiji’s capital] Suva, it is currently expected to bring sustained winds of 100 km/ph with squalls to 150 kph from the early hours of Thursday morning onwards,” the UN agency said.

“These winds may affect weak structures across the greater Suva urban area and may take down trees not already brought down in TC Winston.”

However, the agency said flooding may prove a greater threat than gale-forced winds. Rivers are already swollen, and soils saturated. Some roads have been closed, and the public has been warned to stay away from swollen waterways.

Much of Fiji is predicted to be deluged with 200 millimetres of rainfall in the next 24 hours, and the threat of destructive winds and torrential rains comes in the shadow of damage from Tropical Cyclone Winston in February.

Just over a week ago, the government of Fiji extended a State of Natural Disaster across sections of the country worst-hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston. Many Fijians had not yet left transitional shelter arrangements.

As Zena bears down, nearly 80 evacuation centres have been opened, with more than 3,500 people taking shelter. All schools have been closed for the day.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will meet this afternoon to assess the situation, and the Fiji Meteorological service is expected to issue its next update imminently.

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Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.

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