Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai'i
By Katalina Uili Tohi
NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (January 3, 2001 - PIDP/CPIS) - Vava'u was the worst hit of the Tonga island groups by Tropical Cyclone Waka New Year's Day.
Damage is running into the millions and food shortages are expected.
Waka left a trail of devastation in the Vava'u island group, with damage to properties and crops estimated in the millions of pa'anga.
Almost all villages throughout Vava'u and nearby smaller islands shared the frightful impact of Waka, with over 90 percent of crops destroyed.
House roofs were blown off and many trees were uprooted, some falling on and damaging houses.
Commercial crops, such as vanilla and kava, are almost completely destroyed, as are essential food crops, including taro, yams and bananas.
Vava'u is headed for a major food shortage.
The people of Vava'u went through similar incidences in the past, including a 1961 hurricane and Cyclone Isaac in 1982. But Waka is the strongest in memory.
Three yachts in Neiafu Harbor were damaged, as were two small fishing boats. Another fishing boat was completely wrecked.
School buildings were also damaged.
Flights to Lupepau'u Airport by Royal Tongan Airlines have returned to normal. Access to the airport from island villages is difficult, however, because the main roads remain blocked by fallen trees.
Families have been busy collecting the debris and looking for the corrugated roofs and other parts of their homes that were blown off by Waka
Waka left one dead and a trail of devastation in Ha'apai.
Fruit trees -- especially breadfruit, mango, lichee and coconut -- were severely affected.
Phone and power lines were cut temporarily, halting telecommunications and causing a power black out.
The water supply also was affected.
Several large buildings had their roofs blown off.
The causeway between Ifuka and Foa was blocked by gravel, partly blocking travel, but not completely cutting off transportation.
The only casualty was a 38-year-old woman who was being rushed to the hospital, but was delayed by a tree blocking the road. She died before arrival, most probably from a heart attack and fear according to a medical officer.
Heavy rain that fell during the cyclone was a record 200 millimeters.
Initial reports from Niuatoputapu indicate extensive damage to houses, root crops and fruit trees.
However, Radio Tonga News correspondent in Hihifo, Louina Pongi, reports no casualties.
Louina says houses and plants along the coastal areas of Falehau and Vaipoa have been severely affected by seawater.
Some families had to abandon their homes and sought shelter at the Free Church of Tonga.
Banana, mango, breadfruit and kava trees as well as other plants, and many homes have been destroyed.
Louina says the islanders expect to encounter food shortages in the near future.
=A9 1997-2001 Pacific Islands Development Program