, HONIARA, Dec 30 – Thousands of people were forced to flee rapidly rising rivers in the Solomon Islands, officials said, as Cyclone Freda intensified into a “destructive” force storm and headed towards New Caledonia.
Wind gusts had strengthened to more than 231 kilometres per hour (144 miles per hour, 125 knots) as Freda developed into a powerful category four storm, said Sajay Prakesh at the Nadi Tropical Cyclone Centre in Fiji.
“These winds are very destructive and can cause huge damage to infrastructure and buildings,” he told AFP on Sunday.
Freda is expected to reach New Caledonia on New Year’s Day and “given its current form if it hits New Caledonia Freda will cause huge damage, as it will blow strong winds and heavy rain for six to seven hours”.
As the cyclone moved across the Solomons it lashed the South Pacific archipelago, whipping roofs off houses, flattening trees and forcing people to flee rising rivers.
Thousands of people from riverside villages had moved to the safety of higher ground, National Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates said.
“But there have been no reports of injury,” he said.
Fishing boats and other craft were advised not to put out to sea and local flights were cancelled as the cyclone moved across the Solomons on a path towards New Caledonia.
Earlier this month Cyclone Evan strengthened to a category four cyclone and left a swathe of devastation in its wake, destroying homes, flooding rivers and stranding thousands of tourists in Fiji.
Before arriving in Fiji, it pummelled neighbouring Samoa, killing at least five.