WELLINGTON/SYDNEY – Cyclonic winds and heavy rain buffeted New Caledonia on Monday, prompting residents of the French South Pacific territory to seek shelter and halt mining of nickel, its most important export.
Cyclone Cook hit the main island at almost the same time as high tide, packing winds of up to 200 kph (124 mph), bringing down coconut trees to block roads and forcing residents to seek shelter indoors.
“Right now we are in the eye of the storm, it is calm, but before the wind was strong and the rain was heavy,” David Sigal told Reuters as he sheltered in the town hall of Poindimie, about 50 km (31 miles) north of where the storm hit land. Floods, and waves as tall as 10 meters (33 feet), were also forecast by weather authorities.
“The threat to New Caledonia is very serious,” the meteorological service said in a cyclone alert. The storm hit land late on Monday afternoon as a Category Three storm, said Virgil Cavarero, a forecaster at Meteo New Caledonia, below the destructive Category 4 predicted earlier, which would have been a level off the most dangerous wind speed.
Authorities widened their cyclone alert on Monday, however, warning residents nearly everywhere in the archipelago to seek shelter before evening.
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