Houses blown away, ships grounded

Twins Joen Soro and Mosikula Taitulo help remove the church furniture after the roof of Vusuya...
Twins Joen Soro and Mosikula Taitulo help remove the church furniture after the roof of Vusuya Methodist Church was blown off when tropical cyclone Evan hit Kuku, in Naitasiri province on Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island, yesterday. Photo by Fiji Sun.
Tropical Cyclone Evan has passed Fiji, however authorities are still warning of strong winds and large swells this morning.

Fiji was yesterday battered by ferocious 270km/h winds, which uprooted trees and homes, ripped roofs off buildings and caused widespread power and water outages yesterday

The Fiji Meteorological Service said the category 4 cyclone was centred about 165km south of Nadi at 4am, and is moving south-southwest at 16kmh. It is forecast to lie about 290km south of Nadi by 4pm today.

A hurricane warning for the Coral Coast, Vatulele, and nearby islands has been cancelled, as has a storm warning previously in place for the Mamanuca group.

However a gale warning remains in place for the Coral Coast, Kadavu, Beqa, Vatulele and nearby islands, with momentary gusts up to 110kmh possible, and strong wind and damaging heavy swell warnings remain in force for Fiji.

More than 3000 Fijians sheltered in evacuation centres and tourists sat tight in boarded-up hotels as Fiji entered darkness and the worst of the storm.

With winds stirring up massive swells, two ships ran aground near the entrance to Suva Harbour.

The bulk carrier Starford, believed to be carrying equipment for a Chinese railway company, dragged its anchor at 11.30am and was pushed on to the reef close to the entrance.

The container vessel Captain Tasman was last night aground on the east side of the harbour entrance with a full load of containers.

Sangay Prakash of the Fijian Metservice said heavy winds between 60 and 110 knots per hour had hit the Nadi and Lautoka areas with "destructive force".

He said the most damaging winds would likely come overnight.

Yesterday, there were reports of more than 12 houses being blown away in Lautoka.

Families reportedly lost all their belongings after winds tore apart the homes.

A resident in the area said that of the 18 homes there, only five houses remained standing, Fiji Village reported.

Nadi, where hundreds of New Zealanders were sheltering in boarded-up hotels, was expected to endure hurricane-force winds until early this morning.

Steve Delany, holidaying at Denarau Island, told 3 News that despite the wild weather, he felt as safe as was possible in the situation.

"I think the major concern is for Fijians themselves, who don't have half the protection that we have."

New Zealander Michael Toms, who has lived in Fiji for nearly 45 years, said his Pacific Harbour house had been pounded by high winds all day, bringing down a tree and clothes line in his back garden.

He was worried about high tide later in the night because a river which ran beside his property was already carrying large amounts of brown water.

"We used to always say, not as bad as Bebe, but this is now the benchmark we're going to remember as the worst."

Joanna Underwood of Nadi said she had eight family members at her home and friends who had flood-prone homes were arriving.

"We have nothing else to do here at the moment except stay inside and watch the wind blow everything outside."

The Fijian Government imposed a curfew for all public transport which prevented any vehicles from operating overnight. It is feared Evan could be as devastating as Cyclone Kina, which killed 23 people and left thousands homeless in 1993.

On its projected track, Evan's centre would keep just offshore of the west coast of Viti Levu before gradually turning south from early this morning.

The cyclone, the first of the season in the South Pacific, was expected to move away from Fiji later today, but not before pounding Nadi further.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government was bracing itself to hear what destruction would be caused.

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