15 Feb 2010

Tonga experiencing worst cyclone in 50 years

2:49 pm on 15 February 2010

Tongans are being advised to brace for the strongest cyclone to hit the country in 50 years.

This morning Cyclone Rene brushed past the northern Vava'u group but the Fiji Met Office says Tonga's Ha'apai, Nomuka and Tongatapu groups, and Eua island can expect very destructive hurricane force winds of 170 kilometres an hour with momentary gusts to 215 kilometres an hour from late this afternoon.

It says these islands can expect heavy rain, phenomenal seas and damaging heavy swells from Cyclone Rene as it moves southwest.

The Office says flooding is likely.

Rene is expected to lie just to the west of Tongatapu by late this evening.

Radio Tonga reports Maliu Takai of the National Disaster Management Committee saying that Rene would be the most destructive cyclone in 50 years.

Mr. Takai has warned that people in low-lying areas should take shelter in assigned premises on higher ground.

He says he fears that Rene is expected to reach Tongatapu when it's high tide and would create storm surges that would be very destructive.


The Tonga defence force says early reports from the country's northern islands of Vava'u indicate extensive damage following Cyclone Rene which is a category 4 storm.

The chief of staff for the defence force readiness team, Lieutenant Commander Solomon Savelio says the powerlines there are down, and some buildings have been damaged.

Lieutenant Commander Savelio says the defence force is on standby for when they get the word to head towards the affected islands, with two patrol boats fuelled up and ready to go.

"So they can immediately assist the Government officials and our personnel on the islands but for now we are maintaining our readiness here."

Lieutenant Commander Savelio says on the main island of Tongatapu, 300 defence staff are ready to assist the police, vwith the worst weather expected this afternoon.

He says people appear to be well prepared for when the storm hits and government departments, banks and most shops in the capital, Nuku'alofa are shut.


Henk Gros, who runs an Adventure Backpacker and charter boat business in Neiafu on Vava'u says the winds and heavy rain have subsided and the worst is over.

Mr Gros says many locals have been outside already today assessing damage to property.

We've had the brunt of it. The eye passed over and now we're getting quite strong northerlies but it seems to be getting less and less all the time, so we're looking good.

Henk Gros, a businessman on Vava'u in Tonga.