Cyclone Gabrielle heads toward Australia’s Norfolk Island, New Zealand

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Residents in Australia’s Norfolk Island and in New Zealand braced for heavy rain and gales over the weekend from Cyclone Gabrielle, with authorities also warning of hazardous surf conditions and strong winds along Australia’s east coast.

Australia’s weather bureau on Friday upgraded the tropical cyclone to a category 3 storm that can generate winds of 118-159 km per hour and gusts up to 224 kph (140 mph). “It is looking like making a direct hit at Norfolk Island,” Australia Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Jonathan Howe told ABC television. “We might see the centre of the tropical cyclone pass directly over Norfolk Island.”

Norfolk Island, an Australian territory 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Sydney, covers just over 34 square km (13 square miles) in the Pacific Ocean, between New Caledonia and New Zealand. The island’s roughly 2,200 residents, many descended from British sailors who mutineed on the HMS Bounty in the 18th century, have begun to fuel up emergency power generators and tie down loose outdoor equipment and objects, George Plant, the island’s emergency management controller, told ABC.

“This is probably the worst one we’ve seen for a long time,” he said.

Australia’s mainland will not be significantly impacted though some eastern coastal areas may experience large waves and strong winds. In New Zealand, upper North Island regions including Auckland are preparing for further bad weather, two weeks after the country’s largest city was hammered by historic levels of rain that killed four people and caused widespread flooding.

“The ground will be sodden and very wet which will contribute to the likelihood of trees falling from that heavy rain, and the combination of strong winds,” New Zealand MetService forecaster David Miller told Radio NZ.

Authorities urged residents to prepare bags with essential supplies, food and water to last three days and warned power cuts could affect automated cash machines. Gabrielle is likely to impact New Zealand’s North Island from Sunday through to Tuesday.