Prompt action saves hundreds of lives as Cyclone Ian batters Tonga

Publicado: 5 febrero 2014 14:14 CET

When Cyclone Ian made landfall in Tonga on 10 January, it caused widespread destruction in the Ha’apai Islands. The cyclone was one of the most powerful tropical storms to have struck the Pacific nation, bringing 289km per hour winds which tore apart communities in Foa, Lifuka, Kauvai (Ha’ano), Mo’unga’one, Lofanga and ‘Uiha.

In the village of Holopeka on Lifuka Island, the evacuation centre suffered extensive damages. Families were inside when the powerful winds ripped off the roof.

“Everyone rushed to the bathroom of the hall and we stayed there for hours until we were sure that the cyclone had passed,” one of the villagers said. With the powerful wind destroying almost everything in its path, there was nowhere safe to hide. Up to 70 per cent of homes were destroyed across the six most affected islands, and initial figures indicate that around 500 houses will need to be rebuilt.   

Malia, a widower, was one of those who rushed to the evacuation centre when she realised that the wind was getting stronger. “As soon as I reached there, I could see corrugated iron start to come off some of the roofs,” she said. “The only thing I took with me to the hall was a towel to cover my face. When we came outside, what we saw was devastating. I looked around to find my house, but it was gone.”

Despite the damage to evacuation centres, hundreds of lives were saved. According to Vuli Gauna, disaster management programme manager for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Cyclone Ian will not be easily forgotten. “It was clear from our interaction with affected families that they will need much time and psychosocial support to recover from this disaster,” he said.

The IFRC has been working with the Tonga Red Cross Society training emergency response teams and prepositioning disaster relief supplies in preparation for events like Cyclone Ian.

From their stocks, the society is providing temporary shelter material to affected families. “These shelter toolkits give families at evacuation centres an opportunity to carry out minor repairs to their homes and resume some routine as part of their recovery from Cyclone Ian,” said Inoke Taufa, Tonga Red Cross Society disaster management officer.

Tonga has a strong community support network and families are already helping each other. Fifty Red Cross volunteers involved in the assessments are from the most affected villages and Ha’apai branch Emergency Response Teams are working closely with government agencies. Shelter, household items such as cooking equipment lighting, water and health are the immediate priorities.