A powerful storm has hit the archipelago of Tonga on Saturday. Authorities are calling that storm Cyclone Ian, and it hit the islands with gusts of winds topping 178 mph, putting it in category five, the most severe type of cyclone.
Ian created a path of destruction as it hit the string of islands, flattening homes and killing one person, but injuring many. The cyclone has been called the worst storm in decades to hit the Ha'apai islands, one of Tonga's three island groups, between the main island of Tongatapu in the south and the Vava'u islands to the north.
Relief teams are searching the remote islands for victims as authorities had been unable to make telephone contact with 23 islands that account for most of the inhabited islands in the Ha'apai group, said Leveni Aho, Tonga's director of emergencies.
"The patrol boats are still out there, going from island to island to scout for information," he said.
Ha'apai governor Tu'i Ha'angana said he could see from one side of the island to the other, and "that's how devastated it is".
Patrol boats, compliments of the navy, carried tents and other emergency supplies in an effort to assist victims whose homes were destroyed during this raging storm.
Aho estimated that hundreds of people on the two islands were taking shelter in church buildings being used as evacuation centers. Up to 70 percent of the homes and buildings in some areas had been flattened, officials said.
Tupou Ahomee Faupula, from Tonga's mobile phone provider Digicel, said his field officer in Ha'apai, Uaisele Fonokalafi, reported widespread devastation: "He told us that this was the worst ever damage from a cyclone. Most houses are flattened and roofs are off, and trees and power lines are down."
The patrol boats' relief mission said the weather was good on Sunday, but the seas remained rough.
Tonga is an archipelago of 176 islands, 36 of them are inhabited by more than 100,000 people.
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