Cyclone Tomas battered island groups off Fiji’s northern coast Monday, causing flooding and pounding seas, but as residents braced, officials said the storm likely would only sideswipe the main islands of the South Pacific nation.

Some 6,000 residents fled to cyclone shelters ahead of the storm, which was already battering the Lau and Lomaiviti island groups, National Disaster Management Office director Pajiliai Dobui said. One death was reported.

Cyclone Tomas packed winds of up to 130 miles (205 kilometres) per hour at its centre, with gusts of up to 175 mph (280 kph), Dobui said. The Category 4 storm was the same strength as Fiji’s devastating Hurricane Bebe in 1972, which caused widespread damage and claimed 180 lives.

The Disaster Management Office warned thousands of people living on the coast of outer islands in the path of the cyclone to move to higher ground because of expected floods.

Dobui said the cyclone’s latest track would carry it offshore from the main islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, where most of the population lives, causing minimal impact on infrastructure such as buildings, electricity, water supplies and roads in those areas.

A 31-ear-ld woman was swept away by strong ocean currents in northern Vanua Levu’s Cakaudrove province late Friday after she saved her two children from a storm surge, police spokeswoman Atunaisa Sokomuri said. The woman had ignored warnings to stay away from the sea, she said.

In Savusavu township on Vanua Levu, electricity was cut by high winds Sunday night. Strong winds destroyed seven homes on Qamea Island off Taveuni, near the northern tip of Vanua Levu, the National Disaster Management Office said.

Fiji’s 22,000 civil servants were ordered to stay home Monday and schools throughout the country were closed.

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