Fiji braces for Cyclone Sarai

Wellington (AFP) –


Tropical Cyclone Sarai was brewing off the coast of Fiji Friday, threatening the plans of thousands of tourists who flock to the South Pacific island nation over the Christmas-New Year holiday period.

The Fiji Meteorological Service warned of "damaging gale force winds" and heavy rain with coastal flooding expected in many areas as the cyclone intensified.

It was expected to be a Category Two storm by the time it hit the main island of Viti Levu early Saturday with average winds of 65 kilometres per hour (40 miles per hour) and gusts of 90 kph.

The Fiji Disaster Management Office has activated its emergency shelters and issued a public advisory for people to have their "disaster kits" ready.

Many day cruises around the islands have been called off while Fiji Airways has cancelled several inter-island flights and flights to Australia and New Zealand.

Flights to the United States have been brought forward several hours to avoid the advancing cyclone.

In February 2016, 44 people were killed when Cyclone Winston destroyed tens of thousands of homes and causing an estimated US$1 billion in damage when it hit Fiji.