New Zealand aid agencies are poised to respond to a huge
tropical cyclone that is bearing down on northern Tonga.
Tongan authorities declared a state of emergency for the
island groups of Vava'u and Ha'apai today as Cyclone Ian
began to lash the island groups with gales and heavy rain,
news website Matangi Tonga reported.
The category four cyclone was downgraded from the highest
strength, category five, earlier today, but the Tongan
meteorological service is still forecasting gales of 195km/h
at its centre with gusts of almost 270km/h.
In an update issued at 1pm, the service cancelled its
hurricane warning for the Vava'u group, but kept a hurricane
warning in place for Ha'apai.
It said Cyclone Ian may bring very destructive
hurricane-force winds from 1pm until later today, and
destructive winds to Vava'u. Tonga's main island of Tongatapu
may get damaging gale force winds until tonight.
Cyclone Ian is slow moving, which could lead to greater
destruction and heavy rain, strong winds, high swells and
Unicef NZ executive director Dennis McKinlay said it was
ready to send supplies once the extent of the damage was
"We have pre-positioned supplies in Suva for emergencies, but
until the cyclone has gone through and we know what the needs
of the people are and what damage has been done, it's too
soon to take any action yet," he said.
Unicef was in touch with the Tongan government and it was a
matter of waiting for assessments to be done after the
cyclone has gone through.
"Exactly the path of it is not quite known and it's shifted
and changed quite a bit. It's a little bit hard at the
Oxfam NZ's Pacific humanitarian manager Carlos Calderon said
it was ready to respond and was expecting to send emergency
staff to Tonga to assess the situation on the ground.
"Once the urgent needs are assessed we are expecting to help
coordinate the supply of clean water and sanitation for those
affected by the disaster."
Oxfam and a partner, the Tongan National Youth Congress, have
virgin coconut oil programmes in both Vava'u and Ha'apai. An
appropriate response was being coordinated by both, along
with the Tongan Red Cross.
New Zealand Red Cross spokeswoman Corinne Ambler said it was
monitoring the situation, and an aid worker in Fiji was
helping to support the Tongan Red Cross.
The worst weather was forecast to hit tonight, so a decision
on a further New Zealand response would not be made until
New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat)
said it was monitoring the path of Cyclone Ian closely as it
passed over the islands of Tonga.
It said New Zealand government staff had been deployed to the
New Zealand High Commission to provide additional support as
The Tongan government had not yet requested official
assistance, but New Zealand was in close contact with Tongan
emergency management authorities and ready to assist if
Mfat said there were 114 New Zealanders registered with the
ministry as being in Tonga.
"New Zealanders in Tonga are advised to register their
details with the ministry on www.safetravel.govt.nz, follow
the advice of the local authorities (including any evacuation
orders), seek suitable shelter, monitor local media for
updates, and keep friends and family in New Zealand informed
of their wellbeing."