OCHA Flash Update - Tonga | Tropical Cyclone Ian, 11 January 2014

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 11 Jan 2014

This is the third OCHA Flash Update on Severe Tropical Cyclone Ian in the Kingdom of Tonga.

After being upgraded to a Category 5 system overnight, TC Ian returned to a Category 4 storm earlier today but has now returned to a Category 5 with winds over 200 km/h and gusts up to 290 km/h. The Prime Minister declared a state of emergency for Vava’u and Ha’apai this morning.

The cyclone passed east of the Vava’u group (population 15,000) this morning and over the eastern islands of the Ha'apai group (population 6,600) this afternoon (UTC +13). The cyclone’s eye passed directly over Foa, Lifuka and 'Uiha, with Lifuka Airport recording wind gusts of 150 km/h before the cyclone struck. Tongatapu may experience damaging gales for a brief period as the cyclone passes to its east and heads toward open ocean this evening.

Although still early, the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) has reported no injuries or deaths in the affected areas, with reports that many people sheltered in local churches. Most impacts appear to be to homes and infrastructure, as well as agricultural production. Assessments will commence in Ha’apai and Vavau tomorrow.

In Vavu’a, there was less damage than expected, although still significant infrastructure damage to buildings and houses. A wharf in the main town of Neiafu washed away. Police and military are checking and clearing roads. Power supplies were cut by authorities before the cyclone struck but have now been restored. The Emergency Operations Centre remains active and is coordinating the response with District and Town Offices, Village Committees, non-governmental organizations and government ministries.

In Ha’apai, only limited information is available at this point, but the Governor’s office continues to monitor the situation. Patients at the island’s main hospital were evacuated to a nearby school. Significant damage reported to fruit-bearing trees, such as banana and coconut. Electricity and communication remain cut. More information should be available in the morning.

Tongan authorities have declared emergencies in both areas to facilitate the flow of assistance. While no international assistance has been requested, offers have been accepted from OCHA, New Zealand and Australia, as well as NGOs based in Tonga. To support assessments, New Zealand has offered to provide aerial support and Tongan Red Cross Society continues to have response teams on standby. OCHA ROP will initially deploy an IM/GIS officer to support assessment and data collection, and is on stand-by with additional capacity if required. The Pacific Humanitarian Team clusters are available to provide support upon request, and a regional inter-cluster coordination meeting will be held shortly.

The next update will be issued Sunday 12 January.

For further information, please contact:
Elisabeth McLeod, Public Information Officer, OCHA Regional Office for the Pacific, mcleode@un.org, +679 999 1423

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.