SUVA, Fiji – The Pacific nation of Vanuatu was battening down Thursday, March 12, as a powerful cyclone that forecasters warn will pack winds in excess of 165 kilometers an hour (102 mph) threatened the capital Port Vila.
Tropical Cyclone Pam was intensifying as it approached land and set to become a maximum Category 5 system, Fiji's Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre said.
Meteorologist Neville Koop said the cyclone was not expected to make landfall but still had the potential to cause immense damage in the impoverished nation.
"At the moment, Tropical Cyclone Pam is category four but within 24 hours, or even by tonight it will become a Category 5 cyclone and the winds will be very destructive," he told Agence France-Presse.
"Pam will not make direct landfall on Vanuatu, but it will pass 100 to 150 kilometers (60-90 miles) east of Port Vila and, when it does, it could cause immense damage to the capital and the surrounding islands."
Cyclones, known as hurricanes in the northern hemisphere, are a common occurrence in the South Pacific at this time of year.
Tropical Cyclone Lusi swept across Vanuatu in March last year, killing 11 people and damaging crops and infrastructure.
Fiji, which lies about 1,200 kilometers east of Vanuatu, was expecting high winds and heavy rain from Cyclone Pam. The military has been put on standby and all schools closed.