Report – By PMC news desk
One person has died on Lifuka as tropical Cyclone Ian ripped through the Ha‘apai Islands in Tonga yesterday, causing extensive devastation – although the full extent of the impact on the low lying islands is unknown after Tonga’s first recorded category 5 cyclone, reports Matangi Tonga Online.
Sione Taumoefolau, head of the Tonga Red Cross, told Matangi Tonga today that because of a lack of communications around midday yesterday, the extent of the devastation was not immediately clear when a National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) meeting was held with donor partners.
Surveillance aircraft and support services have been on standby. Taumoefolau understood that the government was now trying to accept the offers.
The cyclone struck Ha‘apai at the time and the communications networks went down.
Taumoefolau is now communicating by satellite phone to the Red Cross in Ha‘apai.
He said from what had been reported he believed that the main island of Lifuka was devastated, and there was one death there.
The Governor of Ha‘apai, from his office at Pangai, reported that he could see from one side of the island to the other – “that’s how devastated it is”.
He believed the main islands of the area around Ha‘ano, Lifuka and Foa were all devastated and there could also be damage to the new causeway and foreshore at Foa.
There were reports of roads blocked with broken trees and debris.
Taumoefolau said the Tonga Red Cross had a project last year to maintain containers of supplies in most of the islands. He was happy that at least it gave a start for relief.
The Tonga Navy’s patrol boat Voea was due to leave the capital this morning for Ha‘apai, and a second patrol boat was on its way from Vava‘u, he said.
In Auckland, Oxfam New Zealand said it was preparing to send staff to Tonga within 48 hours to assess the situation on the ground and identify the most urgent needs for people following the reports of severe damage caused by Cyclone Ian.
The extent of the devastation was still unclear but a representative from NEMO reported that public buildings like the palace, market, magistrate and police offices had been partly damaged.
In Pangai, the capital of Ha’apai, one home was lifted and transported 50 metres before being set down, and many other houses had been badly damaged.
Oxfam’s executive director, Barry Coates, said: “Communications are proving difficult and Oxfam is still trying to establish the facts but our experience of cyclones in other contexts suggests that people will need food, shelter, clean water and sanitation.
“Once the critical needs are assessed we’ll decide whether we need to help with the supply of clean water and sanitation or recovering farmers, fishermen and markets to secure the food supply – or both. We have experienced engineers and farming specialists ready to go.”
NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand was assisting with the immediate response effort.
“We will make $50,000 immediately available to respond to specific requests for assistance,” he said.