Relatives describe Tongan disaster

IAIN SCOTT
Last updated 12:00 16/01/2014

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A Palmerston North family has described how relatives in Tonga are picking through the ruins of their house to see if there is anything they can save.

Cyclone Ian became a Category 5 hurricane and ravaged the northern Vava'u islands and the central Ha'apai islands at the weekend, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Palmerston North resident Ana Tuivai and her family had been anxiously awaiting news of relatives on the island of Lofanga in the Ha'apai group.

Her father, Paea Tuimana, has two brothers and two sisters on the island. Ms Tuivai said yesterday communication was slowly being restored to the island, and she had spoken to a family member who had used a mobile phone.

The family had survived by huddling at the centre of their house, as it was the strongest part.

"We spoke to one of the young ones, a cousin," she said. "We are very, very much relieved.

"They are slowly getting phones back, mobile phones. Other phones will take a long time.

"Now we are just waiting to see what we can do to help."

She said several houses in the family's area had been damaged, "but their house, there's nothing left.

"They are staying at a hall, I think a church hall, and they are picking up rubbish and seeing what they can save."

Ms Tuivai told the Manawatu Standard earlier this week that an aunt on the island of Lifuka had sought refuge with family members and neighbours in a cupboard while the storm raged around them.

Her aunt, whose house had lost an entire bedroom, had described seeing "corrugated iron roofing flying everywhere", and said "branches went through the walls like spears".

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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