A resurgent Tropical Cyclone Harold yesterday flattened tourist resorts in Tonga, extending a week-long trail of destruction across four South Pacific island nations that has claimed more than two dozen lives.
The cyclone gathered pace as it bore down on the tiny island kingdom, which declared a state of emergency, warning residents to seek shelter from destructive winds and massive sea surges.
By early yesterday it had again become a scale-topping Category 5 superstorm — surprising meteorologists after signs earlier in the week that its intensity was dropping.
Photo: AFP / Tonga Police
Packing winds of up to 260kph, it cut power in parts of the country and police said that at least three tourist resorts north of the capital, Nuku’alofa, had been reduced to rubble.
The cyclone late last week killed 27 people in the Solomon Islands before barreling southeast to directly hit Vanuatu as a Category 5, obliterating entire towns in the northern provinces.
There have been no reports of deaths in Vanuatu, Fiji or Tonga, with emergency workers saying that residents in the hardest-hit areas took shelter early.
“It appears that many buildings and crops have been destroyed, and some people in the most-affected areas have lost everything,” Red Cross Vanuatu secretary-general Jacqueline de Gaillande said.
Harold weakened slightly to a still-formidable Category 4 as it lashed Fiji on Wednesday, but hopes that the storm was dissipating were dashed as it regathered momentum heading toward Tonga.
“It’s been a tricky one to predict,” New Zealand’s MetService meteorologist Bill Singh told reporters.
“We knew the track it was going to take, but initially everyone thought it was just going to be [Category] 3 or 4, but as it progressed over open warm waters it deepened,” he said.
The storm was late yesterday expected to head away from Tonga toward the open ocean, but WeatherWatch.co.nz head forecaster Philip Duncan said that there were no certainties.
“It’s almost unheard of to see a cyclone tracking south away from the equator, weakening, then suddenly returning back to [Category] 5 so far south,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated disaster relief efforts, with Vanuatu reluctant to open its international borders as it seeks to remain one of the few countries without any confirmed virus cases.
“No foreign personnel are being brought to Vanuatu for response efforts at the present time, this will be an internally run operation,” the Vanuatuan National Disaster Management Office said.
Vanuatu said that any supplies that enter the country would be handled with protective equipment and that the air crews delivering them would be isolated in transit areas.
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