Cyclone Gita hits Tonga

Tonga was hit by Cyclone Gita overnight. It is too soon to get an appreciation of the amount of damage but winds, heavy rain and a storm surge are likely to have been very damaging, but it is too soon to tell how devastating it has been.

RNZ:  Cyclone Gita: Houses destroyed, church ‘completely gone’

Fiji’s MetService said the category four storm was very close to being upgraded to the highest category, five.

It had already washed out building and equipment of Tonga’s met office, and Fiji weather forecasters took over issuing warnings for the region from shortly before midnight.

The storm was expected to be upgraded to a category five in the early hours of the morning.

The US Joint Typhoon Warning Centre earlier said it was hitting maximum sustained winds estimated at 233km/h.

Well-built framed homes can be damaged in category four winds, and most trees will be either snapped or uprooted and electricity and water outages could last anywhere from several days to weeks after the storm.

The local radio station is also disabled.

Check out RNZ’s live coverage here

There are reports of very high winds in the capital Nuku’alofa.

The Fiji met service reported the cyclone was 30km south south east of Tongatapu at 11pm and moving west northwest about 30km an hour away from Tonga.

Authorities have switched off the electricity for about 75,000 residents who live on the island.

The Tongan Red Cross communications advisor Poli Kefu earlier said several houses had already been destroyed in Tonga.

This story will unfold over the next day or two in Tonga, as Gita heads westwards towards (but possibly to the south of ) Fiji and then in the direction of New Caledonia. At some stage it is expected to turn south and may have some impact on New Zealand eventually.

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