PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
TONGA CYCLONE BRINGS 2 WEEKS OF RAIN IN ONE DAY
NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 16, 2012) – Tropical Cyclone Jasmine dumped over half the month's average rainfall onto Tongatapu on Wednesday, flooding large areas of the capital Nuku'alofa and surrounding villages, forcing hundreds of people from their homes, and bringing down power poles, electric lines and trees.
Two fishing boats broke from their moorings in the Nuku'alofa Harbour and washed up onto a reef as the Category 1 slow-moving storm came in from the northwest, and intensified, lashing Tongatapu with a five hours deluge at its peak, and winds of 45 knots close to the centre gusting to 60 knots.
The Tonga Red Cross reported that nine evacuation centers were set up around Nuku'alofa, to provide accommodation for 465 people from seventy-one families who were flooded out of their homes. A government fishing boat the MV Takuo was washed up onto the reef opposite Patangata along with a Korean fishing boat, the Shun King 8 that was turned onto its side. The crew of the Shun King 8 was rescued.
According to the Tonga Meteorological Office the average rainfall for February is 221 millimeters, but within 24 hours from 10:00am Tuesday to 10:00am Wednesday, 120mm rainfall was recorded on Tongatapu.
[PIR editor’s note: As of today,the tropical cyclone warning for Tonga has been cancelled by the government. Initial reports suggest 80 percent of banana crops on Tongatapu have been damaged, along with other food crops and plantation harvests.]
Government offices, businesses and schools closed for the day and the power was switched off in Nuku'alofa and surrounding areas as a safety precaution for 24 hours in most areas.
Over 12 power poles came down along the Sopu end of Vuna Road and in other areas that remained without power today as Tonga Power Ltd. linesmen worked to restore the service.
Cyclone Jasmine tested Tonga's development planning, leaving Nuku'alofa looking like a paddy-field with knee-deep muddy water trapped into a grid formed by newly built roads. Jasmine left a heady aroma of stagnating water that will not be sucked-up by the water-logged land any time soon.
After heavy rainfall, earlier this month, Tonga's Ministry of Works said they had received many complaints about flooding as a result of road works and the problem was even referred to parliament last week.
The CEO for the Ministry of Works, Leveni 'Aho, commented that the only solution for an effective drainage system is for high powered pumps to be installed in several sites throughout Nuku'alofa to pump the waste water out to sea.
The flooding interferes with the proper functioning of septic tanks and sumps.
Cyclone Jasmine's flooding has been the worst so far and closed many businesses for nearly two days, including the Matangi Tonga office at Pahu. The area experienced severe flooding following last week's reconstruction of Railway Road. The trapped water has flooded the floors of homes in the area and is destroying the ecosystem of gardens, drowning plants and trees, and the soil.
Family homes were flooded in many other areas. The Tonga Red Cross staff visited evacuation centers and handed out hygiene kits, kerosene lamps, kerosene, and blankets. Evacuation centers included the Free Wesleyan Church Hall in Tongataeapa, which housed 127 persons from 19 families; the Latter Days Saints Hall, Kolomotu'a, 32 persons from nine families; LDS Hall Houmakelikao, 38 persons from four families; Free Church of Tonga Hall Houmakelikao, 14 persons from two families; FWC Houmakelikao, 36 persons from five families; LDS Popua, 165 persons from 22 families; Catholic Hall Popua, 22 persons from four families; Government Primary School Popua, 25 persons from four families; and the Catholic Hall at Fasi, six persons from two families.
At the Ma'ufanga Small Industries Center floodwater seeped into some factory floors, with one owner saying that had not happened before.
Along Vuna Road the seafront hotels and guesthouses also reported storm damage and flooding to their properties.
There was some damage reported to government buildings at the Queen Salote Wharf.
NASA reported that its satellite imagery showed Jasmine was about 445 kilometers per hour (276 miles) in diameter moving at about 8 knots as it moved through the Southern Pacific Ocean, before lingering over Tonga with its strong thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. On February 14 Jasmine's centre was just 46.3 kilometers per hour (28.7 miles) to the west southwest of Tonga.
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