Only one reported death but many homeless in Tonga's north from Cyclone Waka

News and Press Release
Originally published

Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai'i

Nuku'alofa, Tonga (January 3, 2002 - PINA Nius Online) - A 38-year-old mother of four is the only reported death so far following Cyclone Waka's damaging New Year rampage across Tonga's northern islands. But many people are reported homeless.

Radio Tonga reported the woman was struck by a flying object as she tried to prepare for the arrival of the storm in the Ha'apai group of islands.

The New Zealand Government is preparing to send aid after hundreds of homes and crops were destroyed, mainly in the Vava'u group.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft is already in the kingdom helping the Tongan authorities assess damage, Radio Tonga said.

Wing Commander Carl Nixon, who flew the RNZAF Orion, told the New Zealand Herald that although most islands had escaped serious damage the destruction in Vava'u was clearly visible.

He said: "From the air we could see that crops had been flattened.

Plantations were standing in places but were damaged in others."

He said villages looked like they have sustained a lot of damage.

"Pleasingly, there were some other areas [to the south and far north] of the kingdom that were thought to have sustained damage that were not nearly as bad as Vava'u," he said.

Vava'u, center of the tourist industry, bore the brunt of Waka's 250 kmh (150 mph) winds. But Waka then headed southeast out into the ocean. It did not hit the low-lying main island, Tongatapu, site of the capital Nuku'alofa, as earlier feared.

Radio and Television Tonga reporters told of extensive damage to homes, farms and tourism facilities in the north.

Shane Walker, of the Sunsail yacht charter business, said about 10 cruising yachts and launches had been lost in Port of Refuge Harbor, Vava'u.

He was quoted as saying: "Everyone is getting into a serious clean-up mode now. Tourism is the main industry and we're hoping to be back in business in about two weeks."

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)

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