15 Feb 2018

Cyclone Gita: Emergency shelters reach Tongan villages

5:15 pm on 15 February 2018

Tonga's disaster authorities say good progress is being made getting emergency shelter out to the remote villages lashed by Cyclone Gita.

One of many homes destroyed by Cyclone Gita in Tonga

One of many homes destroyed by Cyclone Gita in Tonga Photo: Ke Leka

Over 1000 homes were damaged or destroyed when the category 4 cyclone hit Tonga's main island of Tongatapu four days ago.

Graham Kenna of the National Emergency Management Office said the Tongan armed forces had done a fantastic job clearing roads.

He said people in the community were also clearing up rubbish and debris as quickly as possible.

"This morning, despite heavy rain there's been ongoing fast response distributions of emergency shelter to the villages on the eastern side of Tongatapu and the western side. And also the Tonga Red Cross is doing shelter distributions within the capital.

"It's going very smoothly and very quickly. We hope to have most of it finished by lunch time tomorrow."

Mr Kenna said there had been some welcome rain to fill tanks.

He said it could take up to a month to reconnect electricity to all areas.

Emergency teams travel to Tonga's 'Eua

Tonga is sending a naval patrol vessel to 'Eua today to help those living on the island which was in the path of Cyclone Gita.

Five thousand people live on 'Eua which neighbours the main island of Tongatapu, but little has been heard about how it fared during this week's category four storm.

Graham Kenna said it was understood there were some injuries on the island but no one has died.

He said staff would make a full assessment when they arrive.

"They've had no communications there so the Australian government has supplied two radio technicians to get the radios up and running and to see if we can do anything to get the electricity back on."

Mr Kenna said a landing craft would go to the island tomorrow with emergency supplies and technical staff.

Tongan diaspora asked to send money, not junk

Disaster Authorities in Tonga are appealing to the diaspora in New Zealand and Australia for financial support rather than sending containers full of used household goods.

The National Emergency Management Office said unwanted items only clogged up the system and make it more difficult for aid supplies to get through.

Graham Kenna said in the past Tongan expats have shipped containers full of old household items and they were no good to anyone.

He suggested those wanting to help could sell their unwanted things and donate the proceeds.

"Use those things and have a garage sale and send the cash to a Tongan family that they know or to the Tongan Red Cross could do with some money or any Tongan charity that is willing to assist the people. Otherwise they send that stuff over here and we only have to find somewhere to bury it because it's un-useable usually."

NZ sends disaster relief supplies

More than 12 tonnes of aid and disaster relief supplies from New Zealand will touch down on a Defence Force Hercules plane in Tonga this afternoon.

The New Zealand Defence Force said agriculture tool kits, family hygiene kits, collapsible water containers, tarpaulins, generators and chainsaw packs were all on board.

Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy said he hoped the supplies would provide basic power, water and sanitation for people.

He said there was also equipment to clear fallen trees.

Most of Tonga remained without power and running water in the wake of Gita.

Derek Leonard owns and runs a coffee plantation in Veitongo - a small rural village in the middle of Tongatapu.

He said some small local shops had been demolished and many houses around him had lost roofs.

He said he was also dealing with the devastation of his home and property.

"My drying shed is pretty much wrecked and a a lot of plants - whole lot of my crops, all of my shelter belt and half the trees are just demolished."

Mr Leonard said three days on, he still didn't have power or running water and has been non-stop cleaning.

The parliament in Tonga after the storm.

The parliament in Tonga after the storm. Photo: Supplied

Vanilla company sends tools to help Tongan farmers

A New Zealand Vanilla company is looking to send tools to help their Tongan farmers in the wake of Cyclone Gita.

Heilala has around 40 vanilla farmers producing for them on the southern island of 'Eua which was among those in the storm's path.

Their other farms in Vava'u escaped unharmed.

The company's chief executive and co-founder Jennifer Boggiss said she'd made contact with their manager on the island and said while houses had been damaged everyone was ok.

She said they had yet to access the damage to crops however she said vanilla could be quite vulnerable.

"You'll lose this year's crop but it's an annual harvest. At the moment there's vanilla beans hanging on the vines that'll be due to harvest from May or June. So those beans if they haven't blown off they'll have been weakened and fall off in the weeks to come."

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Photo: Twitter / @350Pacific

Ms Boggiss said with 'Eua quite mountainous some farms may have been more sheltered than others.

"So it's just a matter of over the next few days assessing which farmers need the most support and assistance and obviously we want to do something that's the most practical and the quickest to get them back up and their farms tidied up and producing again.

"At the moment we're looking at sending up about 20 chainsaws because that'll be the quickest way for them to clear up the mess.

She said crops could be sourced from other parts of the world while supply gets back up and running.

"We have supplier relationships through Madagascar, Uganda, Papua New Guinea so from a supply perspective we'll still be completely operational.

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