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A massive cleanup is under way in Tonga after the cyclone destroyed homes, buildings and food crops.
House destroyed by Gita
The category four storm made landfall there on Monday night, ripping roofs off houses and destroying a church as well as Parliament House.
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".
“Considering, as I said, how bad the storm was it could have been much much worse.” said Lord Fusitu'a.
“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.
“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.”
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, 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].
RNZ Pacific's Koro Vaka'uta told Morning Report the flooding in the aftermath could also pose a health risk.
“There are difficulties with roads being blocked, even more so in the rural southern and eastern parts of the island and that's kind of what was hit most.”
“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.”
Red Cross volunteer Vanessa Heleta said while the damage was extensive, people were thankful to be alive.
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.
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.
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.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
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