Sun, Jan 03, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Mass evacuation as cyclone hits Tonga

DESTRUCTIVE WINDS:Winds of up to 150kph damaged crops and felled tress, but no casualties were reported as hundreds of people relocated to emergency shelters

AFP, Tonga

Hundreds of people yesterday were evacuated from their homes in Tonga when severe tropical cyclone Ula slammed into the tiny Pacific kingdom.

However, there were no casualties after Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva declared a state of emergency before the storm hit “in order to prevent or minimize the loss of human life, illness or injury.”

The northern island of Vava’u took the brunt of the category three cyclone which was packing winds of up to 150kph.

“We are very happy that there are no casualties, police checked with hospitals and town officers to confirm that,” National Emergency Management Office chairman Siaosi Sovaleni told reporters at a news conference.

“We had 11 evacuation centers, over 390 people were relocated to these evacuation centers,” he said.

The storm brought down trees, damaged crops and the main airport was closed to domestic flights.

Tonga meteorological office director Ofa Fa’anunu said it was fortunate there was little moisture around which would have intensified the severity of the storm.

“On another day it would probably have become a [maximum] category five,” he said.

“If the moisture had been present it would have been the right ingredients for development into a much stronger system,” he added.

The official Tropical Cyclone Warning Center said in an advisory that Ula had “very destructive winds” with “very high to phenomenal seas” causing flooding in low-lying areas. The hurricane warning for Vava’u was downgraded to a storm warning early yesterday afternoon.

The tropical cyclone warnings for other island groups in Tonga were also downgraded.

The storm is expected to weaken today as it heads towards Fiji. One year ago Tonga was hit by Cyclone Ian which left one person dead, 4,000 homeless and destroyed crops on outlying islands.

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