Tongan islanders taking stock after Cyclone Ian
Updated Tue 14 Jan 2014, 8:14pm AEDT
Relief and recovery efforts are gaining pace after the weekend devastation brought on by Severe Tropical Cyclone Ian on Tonga’s northern islands.
One person was killed and thousands made homeless by the category five storm which packed sustained winds of more than 200 kilometres per hour when it swept through the area over the weekend.
The worst affected area was the northern part of the Ha’apai group of islands, with damage to buildings and services such as water, telecommunications and power.
In the main town of Pangai, 75 per cent of houses were destroyed.
Emergency workers in Tonga are completing their final sweep of the nation to determine where to direct resources.
The secretary general of Tonga Red Cross, Sione Taumoefolau, says supplies are being given to residents who have lost everything, beginning with the distribution of five hundred tents.
Tonga’s director of emergencies, Leveni Aho, has told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat it is allowing some of the displaced to move out of emergency shelters.
“The tents will give them the option to go back, to start going back to their respective places,” he said.
“Although they have lost a house, they can at least start go back and put their belongings, or find their belongings.”
It as so strong, all the houses gone and it actually lifted cars, lifted cars and moved buses.Ha’apai cyclone witness Moeaki Halaevalu
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says around 2,000 people are currently in 11 evacuation centres across the region.
A Tongan-born resident of Australia has described the force of Cyclone Ian, which struck over the weekend, saying it lifted cars and buses into the air.
Moeaki Halaevalu was visiting relatives in the Ha’apai islands when the cyclone hit and survived with only the clothes he was wearing.
“It as so strong, all the houses gone and it actually lifted cars, lifted cars and moved buses,” he said.
Tongan journalist Monalisa Palu returned from Ha’apai Monday where she was among the first reporters to visit.
From the capital Nuku’alofa, she told Australia Network there’s a lot of devastation but also a lot of spirit.
“In the midst of this devastation, the people there are working together, already cleaning up before supplies arrive, and they just want to reassure everyone that they are okay,” she said.
Tongan authorities say they have made contact with most of the smaller islands, home to about 8,000 people, with reports of extensive damage.
Efforts to restore power are continuing, and troops have been deployed to help clear roads.
On Monday, the Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners joined the Tongan prime minister, Siale’ataongo Tu’ivakano, and other senior figures in inspecting the damage.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has announced Australia will provide an initial $AU50,000 in emergency supplies to assist the response, and pledges to work closely with the Tongan government to support their efforts.
The Australian High Commission in Nuku’alofa has been contacting Australians in the affected region to determine their safety and welfare.
New Zealand pledged $NZ50,000 for immediate response efforts and sent in the air force to assist in assessing damage.
However, Tongan New Zealanders are frustrated that Tonga has not officially asked New Zealand for assistance with the clean-up from Cyclone Ian.
The head of the Tongan Advisory Council in New Zealand says many Tongan churches and community groups in New Zealand want to contribute to relief supplies.
Melino Maka says without a formal approach by the Tongan Government to their New Zealand counterparts, it will be difficult to get containers with goods to the affected island quickly.
“It’s quite frustrating for the community who constantly want us to make things happen, but we do not have any other way or other means at the moment,” he said.
Gusts from Cyclone Ian approached 300 kilometres per hour as it smashed into the northern Tongan islands early Saturday, local time.
It briefly weakened to a category four system before building up again to category five, bringing gale winds to the capital, Nuku’alofa.
Authorities say Nuku’alofa, on the main Tongatapu islands in the south, as well as the central Vava’u island group, did not sustain as much damage as expected.