The South Pacific island nation of Tonga was hit by cyclone Ian Saturday, causing mass destruction.
Comprised of 176 islands, Tonga battled wind gusts of up to 178 mph that flattened trees, destroyed villages, and killed at least one. Up to 70 percent of the homes and buildings in the central Ha’apai group were either damaged or destroyed. The rest were affected by water.
About 8,000 residents reside on the island, many of which had to huddle for shelter in churches, as their homes were being destroyed by the devastating wind.
Relief efforts by New Zealand and Tonga began immediately following the cyclone. The Tonga Red Cross established a policy last year of keeping containers that hold relief materials on each island, which was able to provide help right away.
The Tonga Navy has sent two patrol boats to Ha’apai, and the government is considering making a plea for overseas aid.
Twitter was filled with prayers and concern for the people of Tonga.
— #PrayForTonga (@btsbiebers) January 12, 2014
#prayforTonga they seem like the best people ever and I just wanna go live over there .
— siani | 48 (@dinahswife) January 11, 2014
HEY there's a cyclone coming to hit the island of tonga and Dinah's got family there, which means WE'VE got family there- #prayfortonga
— camEEla cabeYo (@camilacabello97) January 12, 2014
The exact extent of the damage this category five cyclone inflicted is only beginning to unfold, as all communication was lost during the storm. However, Ha’apai governor Tu’i Ha’angana stated he could see from one side of the island to the other, which indicates the severity of the devastation.
Cyclone Ian is expected to weaken as it moves south towards open waters. It is the most powerful cyclone to ever crash into this tourist destination.
Tonga’s economy relies on fishing, tourism, and remittances from overseas Tongan communities. Nearly half of the population lives in poverty.
Image via YouTube