Tropical Cyclone Ian leaves Tongan waters

Tropical Cyclone Ian has left Tongan waters and all warnings and alerts have been cancelled. Immediate assessments and surveys of damage has been carried out. A chartered flight to Ha’apai departed with health, power, telecommunication, media and Red Cross personnel.

Two Navy patrol boats travelled to the northern and southern Ha’apai islands, with one boat carrying emergency shelter and road clearing equipment. The New Zealand Air Force conducted an aerial surveillance and took satellite imagery of affected areas.

Situation

The majority of damage is on the northeast islands of the Ha’apai group, including Uiha, Uoleva, Lifuka, Foa, Ha’ano and Mo’unga’one. There has been one confirmed death and significant damage to homes, infrastructure and vegetation. Small buildings and dwellings have either been heavily damaged or destroyed, with many people remaining in evacuation shelters. Despite significant damage to the administrative capital, Pangai, larger churches and the school are in mostly good condition. The town centre of Uiha is majorly damaged and the village has large areas of flooding. Mo’unga’one appears to have suffered the greatest damage due to its many small and lightweight structures with few buildings standing.

Communications and infrastructure have been heavily impacted, including a large communication facility and tower in Pangai. All communication to Ha’apai has been down since last night, with authorities reliant on satellite phones. Pangai port and a number of wharves are damaged, as well as the airport tower and terminal. Main roads are blocked and power lines are down. The police station is largely damaged, however the hospital is mainly intact.

Vava’u does not appear as badly impacted as Ha’apai. Some assessments have been undertaken, however information flows have been hampered by communication outages.

Response

New Zealand has made available NZ$50,000 (US$42,000) to support immediate response efforts. A number of faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations, including Caritas and Oxfam, are preparing to send staff to support the response. Main telecommunication provider, Digicel, chartered a flight to Ha’apai this afternoon to transport technical personnel and equipment, in addition to relief supplies from Red Cross and a church group. Technicians are working to restore internet and mobile phone services.

Tonga Red Cross Society (TRCS) is working closely with the Government on joint assessments of affected areas. Non-food item supplies are being accessed, including water containers, shelter materials, kitchen and hygiene kits. IFRC has confirmed they will send support staff from their regional office.

OCHA is deploying an information management and mapping specialist to support the Government and is on standby to send more staff if needed. A Pacific Humanitarian Team inter-cluster coordination meeting will be held tomorrow Monday at 2.00 p.m. to discuss and plan for any response.

There has been no formal request for international assistance, although offers of bilateral support have been accepted. The Government was to hold a briefing on damage assessments tonight.