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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Jan. 31, 2008) – Tropical Cyclone Gene has already damaged houses on the island of Futuna in Vanuatu’s south.

Cyclone Gene, which flattened houses and flooded schools and hospitals in Fiji, is now 50 kilometres east southeast of Futuna with winds of 80 knots.

[PIR editor’s note: According to weather resource Tropical Storm Risk, cyclone Gene has reached category 3 strength, packing winds of up to 130 miles per hour, as it moves closer to the islands of southern Vanuatu. The storm is currently expected to curve southward after passing the island of Futuna, possibly averting a direct hit on New Caledonia.]

A hurricane warning is in place for the southern islands of Vanuatu and people are advised to seek shelter.

Vanuatu’s Disaster Management Office says rough seas, heavy rain and flooding are likely.

Its general manager, Job Esau, says they have already received some damage reports.

"We received information that some houses have already been blown down by cyclone Gene, that is on Futuna island. We have not heard any informatuion from other islands in the southern group, like Aniwa and Aneityum. We’re still making contact to those two islands as well to receive more information from them."

Job Esau says the cyclone is now moving south southwest.

[PIR editor’s note: Futuna and its neighbor to the west, Tanna, is in Vanuatu’s Tafea province. Tafea is the southernmost province of Vanuatu. The name is an acronym for the five islands that make up the province: Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango and Anatom. The province has a population of 27,530 people.]

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