Blackouts, flooding as cyclone batters Tongan capital
Nuku'Alofa: Nuku'alofa awoke to scenes of devastation on Tuesday after the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Tongan capital tore roofs off buildings, downed powerlines and caused extensive flooding, prompting a state of emergency in the tiny Pacific nation.
Veteran disaster management officials were shocked at the fury of Severe Cyclone Gita as it unleashed 230 kmh winds on Tonga's most populous island Tongatapu.
Historic wooden buildings in the heart of Nuku'alofa, including parts of Tonga's parliament, were reduced to matchsticks as the tempest hit overnight. Broken power poles and trees blocked the roads and sheets of corrugated iron stripped from homes littered the capital. "It was a particularly bad night," Graham Kenna, from the National Emergency Office, told Radio New Zealand.
"I've been involved in disaster response for 30-plus years and it was the worst situation I've been in." Even the Tongan Meteorological Service lost its roof, forcing it to hand over the job of issuing warnings about the cyclone to its counterpart in Fiji. Storm damage closed the international airport, along with the Australian High Commission, which warned its citizens against travelling to the devastated kingdom. Yet officials said it could have been worse. The storm did not reach a top-of-the-scale Category Five as feared and there were no confirmed deaths as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.