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Cyclone Gita: Island-wide blackout as powerful storm heads for Tonga's main island

By Pacific affairs reporter Liam Fox, Tuesday February 13, 2018 - 00:22 EDT
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Severe Tropical Cyclone Gita wind map - ABC licensed

A state of emergency has been declared in Tonga as the country prepares for the arrival of what could be the strongest cyclone to ever hit the country.

Tropical Cyclone Gita is currently a category four storm but it is expected to intensify into a category-five storm as it heads for Tonga's main island Tongatapu and the capital Nuku'alofa, generating winds of more than 200 kilometres an hour.

Local authorities said people on Tongatapu would start to feel Gita's fury this evening and it would continue on Monday night.

Tongan Police confirmed the entire main island of Tongatapu was without power

The Government declared a national state of emergency and police in Nuku'alofa said there would be a curfew in place on Monday night to keep people off the streets.

They urged people to stay indoors or get to an evacuation centre or a church as soon as possible.

At the Pacific Timber and Hardware store in Nuku'alofa, employee Mele Taione said business had been brisk, with lots of people buying plywood and tarpaulins.

"Everyone is worried, busy, getting things done to get ready for the cyclone, get their house prepared for everything."

The hardware store was one of two that opened their doors yesterday but police forced them to close again because of a strict prohibition against trading on Sundays.

But Pesi Fonua, editor of news website Matagi Tonga, said people had had plenty of warning to prepare for Gita's arrival.

"It's quite an unusual situation because it's not really blowing, it's calm, except that it's very heavy and hot," he said.

"But everyone's going around, going about getting ready and nailing up their windows and this sort of stuff."

Tonga Red Cross spokeswoman Hanna Butler said about 80 volunteers were helping communities get prepared.

"They're getting communities prepared but preparedness doesn't start now, it hasn't just been in the last couple of days," she said.

"Red Cross in Tonga and Red Cross around the Pacific, around the year, works to prepare people for disasters like cyclones."

Even after Gita passes Tonga the danger is not over. It is expected to continue west, straight for the Lau group of islands in Fiji's remote south, still as a category-five cyclone.


© ABC 2018

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