Cyclone hits Tonga

2014-01-12 13:56


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Nuku'alofa - At least one person was killed when powerful Cyclone Ian ploughed into Tonga's central Ha'apai islands, causing extensive damage and destroying houses, officials said on Sunday.

The full extent of the destruction began to emerge when communications were partially restored a day after the South Pacific kingdom's first category five cyclone struck early on Saturday morning.

The Tongan government declared a state of emergency when the cyclone first hit, although initial reports then said there had been only minor damage.

Ian was downgraded to a category four cyclone late on Saturday morning, but increased in intensity later in the day and was restored to the most severe rating of category five as it hit Ha'apai, knocking out communications.

By Sunday, reports began to emerge of houses destroyed and trees flattened across the island chain, which is home to about 8 000 people and is popular with tourists.

Ha'apai governor Tu'i Ha'angana said he could see from one side of the island to the other and "that's how devastated it is".

The head of the Tonga Red Cross, Sione Taumoefolau, said he had been informed of one death in Ha'apai but did not have further details as communication remained sketchy.

He said staff in the region told him by satellite phone the main island of Lifuka was devastated.

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