'Worst storm in over 60 years' destroys Tonga's century-old parliament building

Vuna Road Nuku'alofa Cyclone Gita damage. 13 February 2018

Vuna Road Nuku'alofa Cyclone Gita damage. 13 February 2018

The worst of the storm is over for Fiji but the extent of the damage wrought to the low-lying atolls by Tropical Cyclone Gita remains to be seen. The winds were stronger than predicted, at 144 miles per hour, and ripped the roof off of the Tonga meteorological office, taking the national broadcaster off the air.

"While there is considerable damage to structures and homes across the islands with flooding and power outages, our immediate priority and focus is to ensure that communications services are restored as quickly as possible so that people can connect with their friends and loved ones".

The Minister of Disaster Management, Poasi Tei, said teams of government assessors had been dispatched to villages and towns to report on damage caused by the category four cyclone.

Some 5,000 people stayed in evacuation centers overnight, according to officials, and an emergency was declared.

Storm and gale warnings remain in force for the rest of Southern Lau Group, Matuku, Totoya, Moala, Kadavu and nearby smaller islands, Lakeba and Nayau.

Forecasters said the cyclone was moving away from major land areas for now but was headed towards Vanuatu's most southern islands and New Caledonia. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months.

In Tonga, publisher Pesi Fonua said fallen trees were littering the landscape and their absence was opening up new vistas.

Tongan noble lawmaker Lord Fusitu'a told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.it was a great disappointment the Parliament building had been knocked down.

Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program said via Twitter that villagers on Ono-i-Lau had told it that crops and several houses had been destroyed, but there had been no reports of injuries.

Kiwi Defence personnel also deployed 12 tonnes of aid supplies and a 10-member team to Tonga by air to assess the damage. The declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide equipment and resources to help the 50,000 residents recover.

Tonga is a Polynesian kingdom that consists of more than 170 South Pacific islands, many uninhabited.

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