(Reuters) – A tropical cyclone approaching the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has strengthened to category four, the country’s meteorologists said on Sunday, threatening damaging gale force winds, heavy rains and flash flooding.
Cyclone Harold is moving in a south-easterly direction at four km per hour (2.5 miles per hour) with maximum sustained winds close to the center estimated at 175 kph, the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department said in a statement.
Hurricane-force winds gusting to 235 kph are expected to affect Sanma province including the largest island of Espiritu Santo in northern Vanuatu, later on Sunday, the department added.
The Fiji Meteorological Service’s forecast tracking map indicated Harold is set to become a powerful category five system when it crosses over Vanuatu.
The island chain was hit hard in 2015 by Cyclone Pam, a category 5 cyclone that pummeled the capital Port Vila and other islands.
Vanuatu declared a state of emergency on March 26 in response to novel coronavirus risks but has no confirmed cases yet.
Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast.