March 28, 2007 / 1:24 AM / 12 years ago

Cyclone Becky puts Vanuatu on high alert

SYDNEY, March 28 (Reuters) - The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu was on high alert on Wednesday as tropical Cyclone Becky, a category 2 storm with winds up to 170 kph (105 mph), brushed the island chain.

"We have issued a red alert as the cyclone passes," said Donald Manses, acting director of Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office.

Vanuatu villagers have been warned to prepare for flooding from heavy rains and possible gale force winds, while boat owners have been advised not to go to sea until the cyclone passes.

"It has passed most of the islands. We have not received any reports of damage from the islands," Manses told Reuters.

Cyclone Becky was southwest of the Vanuatu capital Port Vila and expected to head in a southeast direction towards the outer islands of neighbouring New Caledonia, said Fiji’s meteorological office which monitors cyclones in the South Pacific.

"It is a category 2 but it will weaken in the next 12 hours as it passes New Caledonia," said Fiji meteorological director Rajendra Prasad. "As it weakens it will move south of New Caledonia and then dissipate westward."

The peak cyclone season in the South Pacific runs from February to March, with storms forming northeast of Australia and either travelling southwest towards South Pacific island nations like Vanuatu and Fiji or towards the Australian coast.

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