South Pacific island nation of Tonga battered by Category 4 tropical cyclone

NOAA(NEW YORK) — Two days after Tropical Cyclone Gita ravaged the small South Pacific island nation of Tonga, the cleanup continues.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency’s Himawari-8 satellite captured the massive size of the Category 4 storm on thermal infrared imagery Monday. The storm had sustained winds of nearly 145 mph as it moved west past Tonga, bringing heavy rains with it.

Only one other Category 4 or stronger storm has ever passed within 200 miles of the island — Cyclone Ian in 2014, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s historical database.

Acting Prime Minister Hon. Semisi Sika declared a state of emergency for Tonga, urging residents to stay where they were to prevent injury and avoid further damage to property or the environment.

Following that declaration, Tonga’s Police Commissioner Stephen Caldwell ordered a curfew in the Central Business District area of Nuku’alofa, saying in a statement, “We are urging people to seek refuge from this severe cyclone that could be the most powerful in the country’s history.”

As of Tuesday night, over 3,000 people were staying in 41 different evacuation centers as crews were working to have the power up and running for the Vaiola Hospital. Tonga Power had seven teams out assessing the damage to see how early they could have the power up and running for the rest of the area.

Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, saw three major injuries and 30 minor injuries due to the cyclone, according to Sia Adams, Tonga police’s media officer. A 72-year-old man from Fuaamotu died from a heart attack but it is still unclear if the cyclone contributed to his death.

Over 5,000 miles away in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the most famous face of Tonga is competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Cross-country skier and Tongan flag bearer Pita Taufatofua, 34, has been following the storm from South Korea as he tried to make contact with friends and family. This morning, Taufatofua announced on social media that his family was safe despite damage to their homes.

Red Cross teams, the Australian Defense Force and the U.S Peace Corps are all conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations to support Tonga. After a request from the Tongan government, Australia has deployed $350,000 in lifesaving equipment, including emergency shelter, kitchen and hygiene kits to assist.

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