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Satellite image shows Cyclone Tomas building over Fiji

A powerful cyclone has hit northern Fiji, damaging buildings and crops, and forcing at least 5,000 people to leave their homes.

Cyclone Tomas, a category four storm, is packing winds of up to 170km (106 miles) an hour.

The storm is forecast to intensify and shipping has been warned to stay away; a night-time curfew is in operation.

Schools have closed, public services have been suspended, and international flights have been cancelled.

Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) said gusts had caused havoc across the north of the country. Power has been disrupted and roofs torn off by the wind.

Northern impact

There were no early reports of injuries, but officials said a woman was swept away in heavy seas as the storm approached.

The cyclone was reported to be generating waves up to 7.2 metres (24 feet) high.

The head of Fiji's Disaster Management Office, Pajiliai Dobui, told local radio that Cyclone Tomas was likely to be the most powerful storm in recent years.

Fiji's main islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu are expected to get off lightly as the storm heads towards the northeast.

Smaller islands are expected to be badly hit by winds, heavy rains and high seas. Communication has already been lost with several smaller islands.

"You can see trees swaying and likewise the electrical wires and cables that are running between the poles," an official in the northern region, Inia Seruiratu, told state radio.

The cyclone was said to be moving slowly, increasing the potential for damage.
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