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Cyclone Rene Pounds Tonga, Major Damage in Capital

By Sue Richards last modified Feb 20, 2010 07:59 PM

Published: 2010-02-20 19:59:38
Topics: Weather
Countries: Tonga

As reported by Blue Water Sailing

Tropical Cyclone Rene pounded Tonga with powerful winds overnight (15 February 2010), causing major damage to buildings in the capital city, tearing off roofs, downing trees and cutting power and phone lines in the South Pacific island nation.

When phone service was restored early Tuesday, police said they had no immediate reports of death or injury during the storm that has hammered the three main island groups of the kingdom for more than 24 hours.

"There's widespread damage to crops ... (and) to buildings," police commander Chris Kelley told New Zealand's National Radio. "Power has been off all night, there's trees across roads, plus power lines. There has really been quite a bit of devastation."

The nation's National Disaster Committee was meeting Tuesday to begin assessing damage nationwide, described by its deputy director Mali'u Takai as possibly the worst in 50 years.

Nuku'alofa businesswoman Lee Miller said the night was nerve-wracking.

"Miller said the capital's port area is "utterly devastated ... we're still getting big 50 knot (55 miles per hour, 88 kilometers per hour) gusts here and the sea is still coming over the sea wall," she told National Radio. She said that yachts and fishing vessels all appeared secure but one barge had been tossed up on a reef.

Cyclone forecasters in Fiji said that by midmorning the storm was 95 miles (155 kilometers) south of Nuku'alofa and its force was expected to deteriorate as it moved into open sea.

In the northern Vava'u islands group, contact was lost early Monday just after Rene hit. Coastal areas flooded as roiling seas surged ashore.

In low-lying Ha'apai, people were moved to higher ground and into emergency centers for safety, Kelley said, with the storm cutting power and communications, and damaging houses, trees and village gardens.

Fellow cruisers and friends of the CC onboard S/V Carina, are anchored in Vava'u and were able to get this report out:

"We are all safe. Vava'u was the lucky recipient of a direct hit by Hurricane Rene with winds gusting to 125 knots (on 15 February 2010). For 26-27 hours winds were over gale force. Hurricane force winds were a few hours on either side of the eye. The eye was eerie and lasted almost 2 1/2 hours and there were people milling about and kids swimming off the public pier. One derelict boat sits on the shore in the harbor on the Pangimotu side (reportedly with its hull still intact) and a few boats dragged moorings but we are pleased to report that no boats were lost.

The Tongan navy is here and the Red Cross is reportedly active. Many crop plants - bananas, papaya, breadfruit - are damaged which will surely create difficulties going forward for the people. The cell phone/internet tower on Mt. Talao at the northwest end of the bay is gone".