14 Feb 2018

Water, power supply issues in Tonga following Cyclone Gita

3:52 pm on 14 February 2018

As Tonga assesses the damage caused by Cyclone Gita, it is feared a lack of power and water will cause more difficulties for the people there.

Tongatapu following Cyclone Gita

Photo: New Zealand High Commisson in Tonga

The category four storm made landfall there on Monday night, ripping roofs off houses, destroying crops, and destroying a church as well as Parliament House.

The managing director of a radio station in Tonga said a lack of power was affecting water supplies for people around the islands that were hit by Cyclone Gita.

BroadCom's Maka Tohi said a day after the then category four storm swept through Tongatapu and 'Eua most people were without power and fuel was in short supply.

He said the lack of electricity meant water pumps had no pressure, so water shortage was also a concern.

"There's no water for people to use like [for] bathrooms, showers, even drinks. But the drinks they can get it from the shop from the water they sell there but for bathrooms, no one [can] use it.

Cars lining up for fuel in Tonga's capital.

Cars lining up for fuel in Tonga's capital. Photo: John Pulu

"Lucky my family, we have a cement tank where we can store water so this one we use. We go back to basics and jug the water out and that's what we use for our baths."

Mr Tohi said he had been operating using a generator but only has enough fuel to last until midnight.

He said electricity had already been restored to the hospital and Tonga Power have indicated other necessary services may be reconnected within the next 24 hours.

"They might try to restore as early as this evening, the broadcast stations, the government buildings and also the most important government departments that they need to operate.

"They have to make sure that they will start working by this evening or early next morning."

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Photo: Twitter / @AusAirForce

The head of Tonga's National Emergency Management Office, Leveni Aho, said debris blocking roads was hampering a full assessment of the impact of Cyclone Gita there.

While about half the houses in Tongatapu still have water, it was difficult to properly assess other infrastructure, Mr Aho said.

"The big thing is that we're concentrating on trying to get clearance - road access - so that people can start access to go to hospital and various other places where they need to [go].

Two deaths confirmed

Police confirmed yesterday a 72-year-old man from Fua'amotu was rushed to the hospital last night, but died of a heart attack before arriving. The director of health said the cyclone could have contributed to his death.

Tongan MP Lord Fusitu'a, who lives near the centre of Tongatapu, said another woman also died.

He told Checkpoint last night about an elderly woman whose house had "completely blown away from her while she was in it".

"She couldn't make it to the neighbour's in time and she perished, which is a terrible, terrible tragedy.

"I live in a two-storey, fully bricked house and the building was literally shaking from the wind, so it's fairly significant. It's the strongest cyclone I've experienced."

He said it was fortunate a colleague of his had been able to tweet information to the island after the Tonga Meteorological Service office's roof was blown off.

"Walking throughout the capital there's been extensive damage. I'm told from our emergency centre that 40 percent of the roofs have been torn off and there's extensive damage to the greater Nuku'alofa area and outlying villages."

"This is probably the most significant clean-up that we've had in a while ... Cyclone Isaac was in 1982, which was decades ago, and this clean-up would be more significant than that.

Tongans looking for material to rebuild.

Tongans looking for material to rebuild. Photo: John Pulu

"The challenge is - we've withstood the strength of the cyclone and the challenge is where to now, how to rebuild and how to best interact with our bilateral partners to get the rebuild going."

Flooding poses health risk

RNZ Pacific's Koro Vaka'uta told Morning Report the flooding in the aftermath could also pose a health risk.

"In the clean-up that we've got people talking about the need to clear standing water because as you know there's a Dengue fever outbreak in Tonga as well, I think it was 53 cases over the last summer holidays culminating in the death of a young girl as well, so that's something to watch in the coming weeks."

He said there were reports of a lot of damage on Tongatapu.

"We're seeing the heritage building, the old Parliament in the central area of Nuku'alofa, completely damaged, it's gone in the wake of the hurricane."

He said communication with the island of 'Eua had also been cut off and there was damage to churches, schools, crops and homes.

"I managed to speak to a former government minister last night on 'Eua ... and 'Eua's a bit of an agricultural centre, if you like in terms of crops, and he said all the crops - cassava, yam, kava - were all gone.

"In his words the buildings that weren't new had been all destroyed as well, power and water out, so a lot of struggling happening at the moment."

People 'thankful to be alive'

Red Cross volunteer Vanessa Heleta said while the damage was extensive, people were thankful to be alive.

Ms Heleta is part of the group who visits residents on the east coast of Tongatapu, which is severely damaged.

She said many houses have been flattened, and crops and fruit trees destroyed, but Tongans were relaxed, smiling and happy to have survived.

Ms Heleta said the Red Cross would go back out today and help distribute food and water to residents.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force team is on the way to Tonga to assess the damage caused by Gita.

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Photo: Twitter / @hannarosebutler

A Hercules left Auckland for Tonga last night, carrying 12 tonnes of supplies including hygiene kits, temporary shelters, water containers and tarps, while an Orion aircraft had already arrived.

The Tongan Red Cross office was kept busy distributing shelter kits and basic supplies to people hardest hit by Cyclone Gita, with many homes damaged.

Air New Zealand's flight due to fly to Tonga

Air New Zealand has confirmed it is operating its first service out of Tonga since Cyclone Gita hit, at 6pm.

Flight NZ273 from Tonga to Auckland has been upgraded from an A320 Airbus to a 777 to try and clear a backlog of passengers stuck in the Kingdom since Monday night.

It was not yet clear if other airlines are also running their services but a spokesperson for the Kingdom Travel Centre in Tonga said the international airport was open again.

According to the travel centre the next Air New Zealand flight to Tonga will depart Auckland at 5pm on Thursday.

ANZ waives fees for Pacific island transfers after Gita

The ANZ Bank has announced a relief package for its customers in the Pacific impacted by Cyclone Gita.

It has given the Red Cross $US72,500 dollars and waived the fees for international money transfers to Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga .

The fees are waived until the end of March.

Remittances from relatives living overseas are an important source of income for many in the Pacific islands.

The bank says it will also be looking at restructuring business loans and other relief for its customers.

Nuku'alofa after Cyclone Gita.

Nuku'alofa after Cyclone Gita. Photo: New Zealand High Commisson in Tonga

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