11 Jan 2014

Cyclone upgraded as it passes over Tonga group

9:11 pm on 11 January 2014

Emergency officials in Tonga say they are desperately trying to establish the full extent of damage after Tropical Cyclone Ian barrelled through the island group of Ha'apai.

The National Emergency Management Office says power and phone lines are down in most parts of the twenty-five inhabited islands, and they expect the impact of the Category Five Cyclone to be devastating.

Tropical Cyclone Ian had been reduced from a category five to a category four cyclone this morning; but the National Emergency Management Office says it has now gone back up to five, the strongest possible category.

Tonga's Met Service Cyclone forecaster Ofa Faanunu says the centre of the storm, with winds of up to two-hundred and eighty kilometres and hours, is now about fifty kilometres south east of Ha'apai.

He says the intensity of the Cyclone will decrease as it moves south east.

Meanwhile, no deaths or injuries from Cyclone Ian have been reported yet, according to Tongan officials.

But the full extent of damage on the group and particularly its small islands remains to be assessed.

The National Emergency Management Office said today it expected more reports to come in from Ha'apai in particular as the cyclone passed.

The office had been raising awareness to be prepared in remote communities all week, and he believed the message was getting through.

Matangi Tonga reports Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu as saying the government would organise its own reconnaissance mission as soon as the storm passed.

He says New Zealand has offered services - including an aircraft on standby in Auckland already - while Australia is also on standby to help.

But Mr Vaipulu says they have informed them so far there is not a need because Tonga has its own emergency funds, including about 500 thousand US dollars in that account and enough to keep operations going.

A State of Emergency for Vava'u and Ha'apai was declared for 28 days from today.

The SOE would allow flights to operate on Sunday if needed.