Cyclone Vania
© Storm2k.orgCyclone Vania lashed southern Vanuatu and moved on the Loyalty Islands.
French authorities in New Caledonia today flagged a red alert for the French Pacific territory's north-eastern Loyalty slands group, due to the ominous approach by tropical cyclone Vania, which has overnight lashed at neighbouring Vanuatu's southern islands.

The red alert, which is a maximum level on a scale of three (yellow, orange, red) was due to come into force at 3 pm local time (GMT+11), the French High Commission in Nouméa said in a release.

The red alert effectively means that people should stay indoors until further notice and continue to monitor cyclone-related advice on local media.

A previous orange alert had been imposed on the Loyalty Islands, on Wednesday, prompting the population to store goods and essential items such as batteries, water and food.

For the rest of New Caledonia, including the main island of Grande Terre, a yellow level alert remains in force.

On Thursday morning, domestic airline Air Calédonie announced that it had cancelled all flights until further notice.

In Vanuatu, some damage was already reported overnight, particularly on crops and vegetation, as Vania closed in on the Southern islands of Tanna and Erromango, where a red alert is also in force for what is referred to as "very destructive winds" nearing a speed of 100 km/h and gusting up to 140 km/hr.

Over the past 24 hours, Vania seems to have all but ceased to move and is currently quasi-stationary over the southern part of Vanuatu.

It is however predicted to resume its track in a west-south-westerly direction and to gain further strength over the next 24 hours.

Patrick Decloitre is editor of the Fiji-based Oceania Flash independent news service specialising in the Francophone Pacific.