Cyclone Harold tears through Vanuatu, bears toward Fiji

Social media video still of Cyclone Harold bringing strong winds in Luganville

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Tropical Cyclone Harold lashed the South Pacific island of Vanuatu for a second day on Tuesday, ripping off roofs and downing telecommunications, and was moving towards Fiji where it is expected to slightly weaken.

The powerful cyclone made landfall on Monday in Sana province, an island north of Vanuatu's capital Port Vila, with winds as high as 235 kilometres an hour (146 miles per hour) knocking out communications overnight, according to reports by the government's disaster and weather bureaus.

The province of Sana sits on the biggest of Vanuatu's 80 islands and is home to its second-most populous city, Luganville, where photos circulated on social media purported to show buildings flattened by the storm.

The winds blew roofs off houses, tore down trees and destroyed a council building in Luganville, which has a population of 16,000, according to a Radio New Zealand report.

Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office said in a social media post that officials were expected to survey the area later in the day to assess the damage.

Gusts were expected to drop to 110 km per hour (68 mph) as the system tracks south east away from Vanuatu later on Tuesday, and approaches Fiji, Vanuatu's weather bureau said.

Fijian authorities issued a tropical cyclone alert for some of its southern islands.

Cyclone Harold is expected to skirt the main island of Viti Levu, coming around 230 km from the main transport hub of Nadi, about 6:00 a.m on Wednesday (1800 GMT Tuesday), Fiji's weather bureau said.

The alert was in force for islands further south including Lomaiviti and the Southern Lau Group. A strong wind warning and damaging heavy swell warnings are in place for the country. Fiji's meteorological bureau also warned of the risk of flash floods.



(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)