16 Feb 2018

Tonga: 'We need to prepare ourselves to rebuild and renew'

3:14 pm on 16 February 2018

It's been three days since Cyclone Gita swept through the Tongan islands of 'Eua and Tongatapu leaving most people without power and water and others without a home.

Despite this, people in the kingdom are still maintaining good spirits.

The New Zealand Defence Force flew RNZ Pacific reporter Koro Vaka'uta and RNZ visual journalist Richard Tindiller to Tongatapu ...

The destruction left in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Gita in Tonga.

The destruction left in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Gita in Tonga. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

In the main street of Nuku'alofa, Tafi led a group of half a dozen young men, sweeping the road and collecting debris from the footpaths.

Tafi was doing this despite the fact his own house was completely destroyed by Cyclone Gita.

"We've been looking for and seeking assistance from our family overseas - if they can provide financial support to build a new house," he said.

Tafi didn't mind doing what he regards as his civic duty while he was effectively homeless.

"We've already completed our job [and] what we can do at home so this is our second responsibility as a Tongan to participate with ministry [government] staff with the clean-up."

Linesmen continued to work through intermittent showers and fading light to try and revive power to the island.

They said they had started at first light and wouldn't finish until midnight but they wanted to get power to the people as quickly as possible.

Authorities hoped to have power restored to most of Nuku'alofa by the weekend, but outlying rural areas could have to wait a little longer.

Further down the road in Tofoa, Feleti is trying to come to grips with the destruction of his shop, which sold funeral supplies.

He said it could be a long time before he could work again.

"I don't know, it could be one month. We need to prepare ourselves to rebuild and renew."

The roof of Feleti‘s shop has blown off.

The roof of Feleti‘s shop has blown off. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Feleti said he relied on the shop for his livelihood and to support his family.

But he said he was still in good spirits because everyone was alive.

'Everything was broken'

A neighbour, Havea, had 12 people shelter in his house during the storm.

"We live together. During the cyclone we knew that all the top of the house was [picked up] higher by the cyclone so we stayed inside. In the morning, everything was broken," he said.

Both Havea and Feleti said they had not heard from the authorities yet but they did not mind.

They would continue to clean up and were just happy no lives were lost.

Store owners a few blocks away also lost their roof and most of the second storey of their home.

Although they were not keen on sharing their story, their faint smiles through damp eyes told a tale.

The director of the National Emergency Management Office, Leveni 'Aho, said help was on its way to those who needed shelter.

"We know there are some people out there without rooves and I emphasise to our team that the priority of the government is to get help to those people," he said.

"People need shelter to keep dry, so they can sleep and things like that."

The New Zealand government has sent over 24 tonnes of supplies, including tarpaulins and temporary shelters and Australian sourced supplies were also coming in.

Mr 'Aho said they were helping the situation immensely.

ADB gets quick aid to Tonga for Gita response

The Asian Development Bank has provided $US6 million dollars to Tonga to help fund priority early recovery activities following Cyclone Gita.

The Bank's Pacific director general, Carmela Locsin, said this was the first time the ADB has provided post-disaster funds under such a contingent facility, allowing the government to respond quickly to emerging needs.

Tonga's acting Minister for Finance and National Planning, Poasi Tei, said they greatly appreciated the quick support from the ADB.

The money is from the ADB's Pacific Disaster Resilience Program, which was established just two months ago to help strengthen Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu's resilience to disasters.

It was set up to fill a financing gap experienced by many Pacific countries hit hard by disasters.

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