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Pacific braces for double hit

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Cook Islands
American Samoa

(CNN) -- Residents of seven South Pacific Island regions are bracing for the onslaught of two tropical cyclones which weather officials are warning could create a "critically dangerous" situation.

Samoa and American Samoa are in the path of Cyclone Olaf, which could strike in the next 12 to 26 hours, bringing with it wind gusts of up to 300 kilometers an our (185 mph).

The Australian-Pacific Center for Emergency and Disaster Information warns on its Web site that Olaf could intensify into a Category 5 storm, the most destructive cyclone category.

Olaf is currently about 500 kilometers (300 miles) northwest of Pago Pago in American Samoa and is expected to make landfall there and on the neighboring nation of Samoa on Wednesday morning.

The two regions have a combined population of around 230,000 people.

"This is a very dangerous and life-threatening storm," CNN weather forecaster Mari Ramos said Tuesday.

Apart from a 5-meter (16 feet) storm surge, the cyclone could bring winds that can cause structural damage, even to strong structures, and torrential rain that can cause widespread flooding and mudslides, Ramos said.

A second storm, Cyclone Nancy, is forecast to reach category 4 strength in the next 24 hours as it heads towards the more sparsely populated Cook Islands.

Cyclone Nancy is currently about 630 kilometers (390 miles) north of the Cook Islands capital of Rarotonga and may hit land late Wednesday or early Thursday.

It is expected to bring with it maximum sustained winds of 230 km/h (140 mph) with gusts of up to 280 km/h (175 mph).

The Cook Islands was hit less than two weeks ago by Cyclone Meena which caused widespread damage.

Adding to the woes, the long term forecast shows Olaf moving farther south, and it too could be a threat to Rarotonga towards the end of the week.

The Cook Islands population of 21 thousands is spread over 15 islands spread over 2.2 million square kilometers (850,000 square miles) of ocean.

The island regions of Tokelau, Tuvalu, Niue and Wallis and Futuna have also been put on cyclone watch, by the APCED.

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