12 Feb 2018

Tropical Cyclone Gita puts Tonga and Fiji on alert

7:19 am on 12 February 2018

Tropical Cyclone Gita, which has already wrought significant damage in both Samoa and American Samoa, is now heading towards Tonga and then southern Fiji.

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Photo: Fiji Met Service

Tropical Cyclone Gita is expected to be upgraded to a category five storm over the next 24 hours as it heads towards Tonga.

The local met service says the country should feel the worst of the Cyclone Gita, which is currently a catergory four storm, around midnight.

The storm is packing winds of over 200 kilometres an hour and is forecast to intensify.

All schools are closed in Tonga as people make final preparations for tonight's expected impact.

Tonga authorities have advised people to secure their property, move away from low-lying areas and to listen to the radio for information.

But Tongans are handicapped in their preparations for the storm as strict sabbatical laws prevent Sunday trading for emergency supplies according to Matangi Tonga online.

Pacific Timber and Hardware, Nuku'alofa opened up today temporarily for people to get emergency supplies but local authorities stopped the hardware store from operating.

An angry customer said he drove in from out of the capital to buy kerosene and other essential supplies but won't be able to get anything today.

Tonga Met officers said this afternoon that if the cyclone speeds up from its present slow moving approach it might arrive earlier.

The Fiji Met service is issuing special weather bulletins on Gita for the Ono-I-Lau group.

Niue was spared the full force of Tropical Cyclone Gita overnight but the category three cyclone is heading towards Tonga and picking up strength.

The acting chief meteorologist at Tonga Met service, Gary Vite, said category three Gita could become a four by the time it reached the kingdom.

"And the possibility is very high to intensify along the way up to our area, so we expect up to category four but we still monitoring the movement and strength."

Mr Vite said a hurricane warning remained in force for Vava'u, Ha'apai, Tongatapu and 'Eua.

The Met Service said close to its centre, the cyclone was expected to have average winds of 129 kph, possibly increasing to 148 kph.

Cyclone Gita is moving south about 22 kph and expected to gradually turn and move southwest today.

From Monday morning, people should expect very destructive hurricane force winds

The Red Cross in Tonga is advising the public to be prepared as Cyclone Gita approaches.

The cyclone tore through Samoa and American Samoa causing major damage.

The cyclone was upgraded to a category three last night as it passed Niue.

Weather reports said the cyclone would be close to Niue as it headed towards Tonga but the system shifted overnight and instead curved around Niue.

Opposition MP Terry Coe said Niue was lucky to have escaped Gita's fury.

"The wind is quite strong but not over the 100 kph or anything like that, we are all right and I think because it's gone on other side of island, it's won't have done damage at all, we are so lucky," he said.

Police headquarters on Niue

Police headquarters on Niue Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

Chief of Niue police, Tony Edwards, said there were no reports of damage at this stage.

"We have staff roaming around now to assess whether there are any damages around, but it's looking really good," he said.

"The community responded really well to the advice given and everyone was well prepared for Gita but thankfully it passed by."

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Fiji's capital, Suva. Photo: Ariela Zibiah

Fiji issues public advisory

A tropical cyclone alert is now in force for Ono-I-Lau.

Fiji Met Service said severe tropical cyclone Gita was about 1080 kilometres of Ono-I-Lau.

On Saturday, the Fiji government issued an advisory to the public.

Members of the public are advised to:

- Ensure the strength of rooftops and walls

- Trim treetops and branches that may pose a danger to property

- Clear compounds or secure loose material that could be blown easily by strong winds and cause injury or damage to property

- Know where nearest evacuation centres are, or safe high ground is in case of storm surges, flooding, or extreme damages to property

- Have emergency contacts at the ready

- Prepare a family emergency kit to last for 3 days inclusive of:

- Have a portable, battery-powered radio, a torch, and spare batteries

- Dried or canned food and clean water containers

- A first aid kit

- Keep important documents at the ready

Members of the public are also advised to exercise caution as heavy rain and floods caused by Tropical Depression 08F affecting parts of Fiji.

In the event of a flood

- Drivers and pedestrians should refrain from walking or driving through flood waters

- Caution should be exercised when travelling along hillsides or landslide-prone areas

- Parents and teachers are to ensure that infants and children do not play in flooded areas, drains, rivers, and other waterways

- Stay informed through regular news bulletins on the radio and on official social media sites of various authorities.

A strong wind warning is also in place for all Fiji waters so authorities say small fishing boats should avoid venturing out as rough seas and heavy rain will be experienced.