Winds of more than 230km/h recorded as parliament building flattened and power lines brought down.
The islands of Tonga in the South Pacific have been devastated by Tropical Cyclone Gita with winds of 230km/h flattening parts of Parliament House and causing significant damage and injuries across the kingdom.
Gita hit Tonga around 8pm on Monday night and peaked between 11pm and 2am, slamming on to the south coast of the main island of Tongatapu, bringing down electricity lines, smashing churches and levelling fruit trees and crops vital to the island’s livelihood.
At its peak, winds reached 233km/h – far stronger than predicted, despite Gita not reaching a category five storm as anticipated.
According to the British Met office, Gita is the worst cyclone to pass so close to Tonga’s main islands in 60 years, and communications were lost overnight as Gita ripped the roof off the Tonga meteorological office as well as taking the national broadcaster off air for a time.
Graham Kenna from Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office told Radio New Zealand the damage was widespread and severe, and could be the worst in the outer islands where information was slow to obtain.
“I’ve been involved in disaster responses for 30 plus years and it’s the worst situation I have been in,” Kenna said.
“A lot of the landmark buildings are extremely badly damaged or even destroyed, the landmark tree … near the palace, has been been destroyed … it’s quite a bad situation.”
New Zealand has released NZ$750,000 in emergency relief funding, and prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the defence force was on standby to deploy as soon as Tongan authorities specified what assistance they required from her government.
Newshub Pacific correspondent Michael Morrah, who is in the capital Nuku’alofa, reported dozens of houses had been destroyed by the storm. He captured widespread flooding and wreckage across the capital and reported the levelling of a number of significant landmarks, most notably Parliament House.