14 Jan 2014

Shelter main focus for emergency officials in Tonga

6:20 am on 14 January 2014

Charities collecting for victims of the devastating cyclone in Tonga are urging people to give money rather than food or clothes.

About 800 homes have been damaged or destroyed by the category five storm, which tore through the northern Ha'apai island group during the weekend.

That has left thousands of people without permanent shelter, which the director of Tonga's National Emergency Office, Leveni Aho, says poses problems.

"The greatest damage is the housing and of course the people's livelihoods, their crops and all the other infrastructures. A lot of people are now housed, in the affected area, are housed in evacuation centres. There are about 11 evacuation centres there now, mainly some church halls."

The Tongan prime minister, Lord Tu'ivakano, visited Ha'apai yesterday as the clean-up got underway and relief supplies began arriving from Nuku'alofa.

Matangi Tonga reports that in Nuku'alofa there were long queues at the ferry cargo depot with families trying to send goods and supplies over to relatives in Ha'apai.

Impact assessments show devastation to homes and buildings is widespread from the main island of Lifuka to the outer islands of Foa, Ha'ano, Mo'unga'one and 'Uiha.

The main town, Pangai, suffered severe damage, with 75 percent of houses demolished.

On the island of Mo'unga'one, also 75 percent of the housing was destroyed and on Foa Island, the village of Faleloa lost 70 percent of its homes.

Meanwhile, the Disaster Relief Forum is co-ordinating the efforts of New Zealand charities involved in providing relief.

Its spokesperson, Ian McInnes, says they would prefer cash donations to goods.

Mr McInnes says charities may ask for donations of goods once they can establish the needs of cyclone victims.