Thousands evacuated as Tropical Cyclone Evan batters FijiMonday 17 December 2012 17.44
More than 3,500 people have been evacuated to emergency shelters in Fiji as the biggest cyclone in 20 years swept across the Pacific island nation.
The storm has already killed four people and destroyed thousands of homes in nearby Samoa.
Tourist resorts on many of Fiji's palm-fringed islands have been evacuated.
Authorities warned people to remain in shelter as Tropical Cyclone Evan battered the country, blowing over trees and destroying houses.
Authorities said Cyclone Evan had generated destructive winds, torrential rains and was likely to lead to flooding due to a storm surge.
It is expected to pass to the northwestern side of the main Fiji islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, with wind gusts up to 270km/h.
Fiji's weather bureau said the cyclone was rated a category four storm, the second highest level.
It is said to be moving only at about 18km/h, meaning the destructive winds could last several hours.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama ordered public servants to stay at home and he put emergency services on standby.
Hospitals and health centres have been closed for all but emergency patients.
Power supplies have also been cut to some areas as a precaution against falling power lines, including in the main tourist town of Nadi.
Airlines grounded flights to and from Fiji, stranding about 1,900 visitors in the country.
"I cannot stress enough how serious this is. Every Fijian will be affected but we must take preventative steps now," Mr Bainimarama said.
Residents and businesses stocked up on food and put up shutters to protect shops and offices.
Major roads have been closed and authorities are warning that bridges could be swamped by flood waters.
The Fiji Times reported rough seas and ferocious winds had forced a bulk carrier to run aground on a reef near the capital of Suva.
Australia and New Zealand offered support to Fiji ahead of the storm and have search and rescue personnel on standby.