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Tonga lashed by worst cyclonic storm in 60 years

Tonga has been slashed by a devastating tropical storm, with winds exceeding a speed of 230 km/hr, damaging various houses and commercial shops, flattening parts of the country’s Parliament House and causing injuries across the country.

Cyclone ‘Gita’ hit Tonga at around 8 p.m. on Monday and peaked during the wee hours of Tuesday. It made landfall on the south coast of the main island of Tongatapu, dumping 160 mm of rain, bringing down electricity lines and damaging agricultural fields, according to the Guardian.

The British Meteorological Office predicted that Gita was the worst cyclone to have struck the tiny Pacific nation in 60 years. The cyclone was so severe that it ripped off the roof of the Tongan Meteorological Office and taking the national broadcaster off air for some time. The Tongan Government has declared a state of emergency.

“It was a particularly bad night,” Graham Kenna, from the National Emergency Office, was quoted by Radio New Zealand, as saying.

“I’ve been involved in disaster response for 30-plus years and it was the worst situation I’ve been in,” he added.

Sione Taumoefolau, the secretary general of the Red Cross in Tonga, was quoted as saying that he had dispatched teams to the affected areas in Nuku’alofa and started to assess the damage. He said by initial estimates the damage in the capital was extremely severe.

“At this stage, we have no reports of causalities and only minor injuries, so I think we can be grateful for that. But we do not have good information on the outer islands, so we will have to wait and see what we find today. It was a frightening night, the entire house was shaking,” Sione said.

The Tongan emergency response team said they were struggling to assess the damage around the capital and the islands due to debris blocking roads and downed electricity lines.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) New Zealand said it was prepared to respond to the disaster and had already dispatched emergency supplies to nearby Fiji.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the defence forces were on standby and ready to be deployed if the Tongan Government needed assistance and released 750,000 New Zealand dollars.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said emergency supplies had been stocked and prepared and were ready to be dispatched to the country.

“Initial assessments of the damage are still coming in. However, it is clear that Cyclone Gita has caused significant damage,” Peters said.

Tonga is made up of 176 islands, though only 40 of them are inhabited. Tropical and cyclonic storms are not uncommon in the tiny Pacific nation.

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