Tongas northern group hit by cyclone - heavy damage feared

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 01 Jan 2002
AUCKLAND, Jan 1 (AFP) - A severe cyclone is believed to have inflicted heavy damage on northern islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, local authorities said Tuesday

Communications with The Niuas and the tourist island group of Vavau have been lost, government spokeswoman Eseta Fusitua told AFP from the capital Nukualofa.

Cyclone Waka formed Saturday over the French territory of Wallis and Futuna before heading south between Samoa and Fiji and hitting northern Tonga late Monday night and early Tuesday.

The Honolulu-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) placed Waka at midnight (1200 Monday GMT) over the Haapai island group moving southeast, veering away from Nukualofa.

Fusitua said Vavau, famous for its whale watching and yacht chartering operations, was not out of contact after authorities there took down satellite dishes ahead of severe winds.

"Weve heard that there has been a lot of damage but we dont know much else about it," she said.

There were no reports of death or injury. Yachting sources monitoring marine radio told AFP there was extensive damage on Vavau with many homes destroyed, agricultural crops flattered and commercial boats wrecked.

Around 15,000 people live in Vavau, most in the main town of Neiafu.

Niuafoou (1,300 people) and Niuatoputapu (1,500 people) are also believed to have sustained damage to crops.

The storm appears to have spared the main island of Tongatapu which hosts Nukualofa.

JTWC said Waka was maintaining its intensity with sustained winds of 185 kilometres per hour (kph) (100 knots) and gusts to 231 kph (125 knots). Its current course will take it into an open area of the South Pacific, although Niue and the Cook Islands have been warned of gale force winds and very rough seas.

Meanwhile weather experts are watching a system near the Solomon Islands. They warn its potential to develop into "a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is fair".

Storms born in that part of the world tend to hit Vanuatu, New Caledonia and New Zealand.

mjf/jkb AFP

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