ShelterBox has aid on Fiji and is mobilising a response team as Cyclone Winston bears down

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A category 5 ‘megastorm’ tropical cyclone has made landfall in the Pacific nation of Fiji. UK disaster relief agency ShelterBox already has aid stored on the islands, and is mobilising teams and aid from New Zealand and Australia

A destructive tropical cyclone is bearing down on the Pacific archipelago of Fiji, with destructive winds and an intensity rating that meteorologists are calling ‘nearly off the charts’. Tropical Cyclone Winston is a worst case scenario for Fiji — a Category 5 storm that is expected to directly hit the most populated island and the capital, Suva later today.

Cornwall-based emergency shelter agency ShelterBox has some aid already positioned in Fiji, and can call for more supplies from its bases in Auckland and Melbourne when transport arrangements can be safely made.

Operations Manager Alf Evans says, ‘We will be sending a team as soon as it is safe to do so, hopefully on Sunday or Monday. Our New Zealand and Australia affiliates are standing by, and we are considering the use of a partner charity that uses superyachts to reach isolated areas. We also have Rotary associates on the islands, so are getting first-hand accounts of events as they unfold.’

‘Everything depends on the course of Cyclone Winston over the next few hours, and the damage it causes to sea and air transport links.’

Thousands have already fled their homes, and the Fiji government has warned of a widespread threat to property and lives. Flights have been cancelled and there is an expectation of harbours being smashed and trees uprooted.

Cyclone Winston took an unusual path, winding through the South Pacific and crossing over a single island twice, then turning back on itself. It passed over Tonga island as a weaker category 2 storm, but has since strengthened in force.

The Fijian government has compared the storm to Cyclone Pam, which devastated the islands of Vanuatu last year. Winds of over 200mph and heavy rainfall of up to 15.7 inches are expected for the coming hours. There are around 700 evacuation centres across the islands, mostly school buildings and community centres, and residents have been advised to use them if their homes become unsafe. The National Disaster Management announced a total public curfew from 6pm in an effort to restrict movement and improve safety.

Authorities also advised members of the public living in low-lying regions in the North to move to higher ground as the cyclone intensifies. Storm surge from Winston is a particular worry for Fiji, where rising sea levels and coastal erosion have already displaced communities.

Fiji includes more than 320 islands, volcanic outcrops and coral atolls. Many are inhabited, but inaccessible and very vulnerable to high tides.