/Tonga declares state of emergency, braces for Cyclone Gita

Tonga declares state of emergency, braces for Cyclone Gita

Tonga’s weather forecasting authority on Monday warned residents to brace for “very destructive hurricane force winds” as Cyclone Gita barreled towards the South Pacific archipelago.

The Category 4 system is expected to hit the capital, Nuku’alofa, by around 7 p.m. local time (0600 UTC).

Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika announced a state of emergency, saying he was “satisfied that an emergency is happening or is about to happen in the kingdom.”

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The storm was already packing wind gusts of 220 kilometers per hour (137 miles per hour) and was continuing to intensify as it moved south across the ocean.

Some regional meteorological agencies predicted Gita would reach Category 5 strength — the most destructive ranking — by the time it made landfall in Tonga.

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Preparing for the storm

Schools and workplaces were shut on Monday. Tonga’s information ministry said evacuation centers were being prepared across the kingdom, which is home to some 100,000 inhabitants.

It urged every household to have an emergency kit packed, adding that “everyone should be mindful of what might cause damage within their homes such as large trees that can potentially damage a house.”

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Cyclone Gita tore across Samoa over the weekend, flooding much of the capital, Apia, and forcing some 300 people to evacuate, according to the Red Cross. The storm caused widespread damage and power outages, but no casualties were reported.

Red Cross Pacific spokeswoman Hanna Butler said on Twitter that relief workers were assessing the damage and helping people return to their homes.

Gita is expected to cross Tonga overnight on Monday before moving on to Fiji by early Wednesday.

Destructive storms are fairly common in the region at this time of year. In February 2016, Cyclone Winston slammed into Fiji, killing 44 people. It was the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere.

nm/jm (Reuters, AFP)