Pacific cyclone bears down on Fiji after brushing Tonga

Suva, Fiji - Fiji warned residents to brace for destructive winds on Sunday as severe tropical cyclone Ula bears down on the Pacific nation.

Meteorologists reported the category three storm had maintained its intensity after forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes on Saturday in neighbouring Tonga.

It was tracking south-west towards Fiji's eastern Lau island packing winds of 150 kilometres per hour (93 miles per hour) at its centre, the Fiji Meteorological Centre said.

"Initially it showed that it was going to weaken, however, it has slowed down and maintained its intensity over the last 12 to 24 hours," Fiji director of meteorology Ravind Kumar told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We will continue to monitor it very closely." The cyclone is expected to pass within 65 kilometres (40 miles) of the island of Ono-i-Lau late Sunday and authorities warned residents to brace for gale force winds.

Tonga issued similar warnings, even declaring a pre-emptive state of emergency on Saturday, although the cyclone caused no casualties when it passed near the northern island of Vava'u.

The official Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre said Ula was expected to weaken overnight.