Cyclone Gita batters Tonga before heading toward Fiji

Cyclone Gita batters Tonga before heading toward Fiji
Cyclone Gita batters Tonga before heading toward Fiji. Reuters/Facebook/N. Langi
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A powerful Category 4 cyclone tore through the Pacific island nation of Tonga early Tuesday, causing extensive flooding and downing powerlines.

Officials described Cyclone Gita as the most powerful storm to ever hit Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa after it passed through shortly after midnight (1100 GMT).

The storm hit the island with destructive sustained winds of around 233 kilometers per hour (142 miles per hour), damaging about 40 percent of the buildings in the capital.

"It was a particularly bad night," Graham Kenna, from the National Emergency Office, told Radio New Zealand.

"I've been involved in disaster response for 30-plus years and it was the worst situation I've been in."

There were no confirmed reports of deaths due to the storm, but many people were injured, some seriously, Kenna told Reuters news agency.

Michael Morrah, a correspondent with Newshub New Zealand, tweeted a picture of Tonga's Parliament House which appeared to have been destroyed by Cyclone Gita as well as images of flooding around the capital.

The powerful winds also blew the roof off of Tonga's Meteorological Service building in Fua'amotu, damaging equipment inside and forcing authorities to have meteorological services in Fiji take over the weather bulletin.

The full extent of the damage to Tonga, home to some 75,000 residents, will not be known until later on Tuesday.

Other Pacific island countries are also bracing for Gita as the storm heads toward Fiji, Vanatu and New Caledonia in the next few days.

Cyclones are common at this time of year in the Pacific and Category 5 storms have proved deadly when they make landfall.

In 2016, Cyclone Winston killed 44 people in Fiji and Cyclone Pam killed 11 people in Vanuatu in 2015.

rs/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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