Tonga – Tropical Cyclone Gita Causes Devastation

Tropical Cyclone Gita passed through the Kingdom of Tonga just 40 km from the capital city of Nuku’alofa as a Category 4 cyclone, with winds up to 200 km per hour. According to the UK Met office, Gita is the worst cyclone to pass so close to Tonga’s main islands in 60 years.

NASA’s Terra satellite saw powerful Tropical Cyclone Gita in the South Pacific Ocean on Feb. 12 at 5:20 p.m. EST (22:20 UTC). Fiji is located northwest of the storm. Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

The islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua and some parts of Ha’apai Group were severely affected. Damage included roofs ripped from houses, flooding, fallen trees and cut power. Parts of Parliament House and other public buildings suffered significant damage. The Tongan police headquarters in Longolongo was severely damaged.

According a report (pdf) by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1 person was killed as a result of the storm. OCHA also said that that 95 houses were destroyed and a further 960 damaged. As many as 3,900 people have been evacuated and are staying in 108 evacuation centres.

Some flooding was reported in Tonga, although by far the worst of the damage appears to have been caused by strong winds. Some significant rainfall was recorded in Niuafoʻou, the most northerly island in the kingdom of Tonga, with 68.6mm falling in 24 hours to 11 February. However, available rainfall records are limited.

Gita passed close to Ono-I-Lau island of Fiji on 13 February. On 14 February the storm was located 200 km south-west of Kandavu island and had maximum sustained winds of 213 km/h.

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Forecast

The Tropical Cyclone is forecast to continue moving west-southwest. It could pass approximately 300-350 km south of Tafea group of Islands (Vanuatu) on 15 February and 150-250 km south of New Caledonia on 16 February. Heavy rain and strong winds could affect southern Vanuatu, New Caledonia and continue to affect the Western Division of Fiji over 13-16 February.

New Caledonia is still recovering from the impact of Tropical Cyclone Fehi that swept past the islands during late January causing severe wind damage and flooding.  Météo Nouvelle-Calédonie said that during the course of storm Fehi, 432 mm of rain fell in Nouméa.