'In her house, the bedroom was gone'

Families wait in wake of cyclone Ian

IAIN SCOTT
Last updated 12:00 14/01/2014
Tongan families
DAVID UNWIN/ Fairfax NZ
CONCERNED: Paea Tuimana, left, and Apolosi Angitau see if they can recognise familiar locations as they examine photographs of the devastation Cyclone Ian caused in tonga at the weekend. Both are awaiting news of family members.

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Worried Tongan families in Palmerston North are "holding their breath" as they await news of relatives in the aftermath of the powerful cyclone that hit the island nation at the weekend.

There were tears of relief yesterday for Ana Tuivai and her family when she finally managed to contact a relative on the island of Lifuka by phone.

However, there had been no communication with family members on the island of Lofanga in the Ha'apai group, home to 8000 people.

"A lot of us have families back on the island who are affected by the damage," she said. "My father has brothers and sisters back on the island."

Her father, Paea Tuimana, said he had two sisters and two brothers.

"I have not had contact with them and I am worried about them," he said. "I haven't heard any news about them."

Ms Tuivai said people with relatives in Tonga were spending a lot of time on the internet, looking for information.

"People are also looking at Facebook to see where the damage is, and to see if anyone has posted anything there. We are waiting to see what we need to do to help."

Ms Tuivai said her aunt, with whom she had spoken minutes before talking to the Manawatu Standard, had huddled with her family and neighbours in a cupboard while the cyclone was raging around them.

"In her house, the bedroom was gone."

Her aunt had told her that "branches went through the walls like spears".

"There were tears on both sides," Ms Tuivai said. "They were tears of relief. She was crying and saying that all she did was pray. She could see things flying all around her."

Her aunt had mentioned seeing "corrugated iron roofing flying everywhere".

"They will be out of electricity for a few months," she said.

Ms Tuivai's uncle, Apolosi Angitau, said he was relieved his sister had been contacted. Clearly struggling to speak through his emotions, he said he was feeling helpless and was missing his sister.

Mr Angitau, who came to New Zealand last year, said he had lived through a powerful cyclone in 1961 "that we thought was the worst that we ever had, but there were no modern buildings then".

Mr Tuimana said: "I think the worst part is not having a roof over their heads, and what is to come. There's no water and crops will be ruined, so there's not going to be enough food. And there's going to be disease."

Ms Tuivai, who works at Lalanga Moui Tongan Early Childhood Centre, said when the children returned to the centre next week, they would become involved by seeing what they could do to help.

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She said she believed there would be a need for clothing and canned and other non-perishable foods.

Cyclone Ian, which spent a week in the Koro Sea between Fiji and Tonga, intensified at the weekend, becoming a Category 5 hurricane, with gusts of up to 250kmh.

So far there has been one confirmed death, that of a woman.

- Manawatu Standard

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