16 Feb 2010

Cyclone Rene set to weaken rapidly as Tonga cleans up

2:53 pm on 16 February 2010

Cyclone Rene is weakening quite rapidly as it moves away to the southwest of Tonga after it caused havoc across much of the country yesterday.

Rene is still classed as a category two cyclone and at its centre has winds gusting up to 150 kilometres an hour, but this level of intensity will drop away by late this afternoon.

The Fiji Met Office though warns that Ata, Tonga's most southern island, can expect damaging gale force winds gusting to 100 kilometres an hour over the next three hours.

Tonga's Disaster Management Office has now sent out teams to areas affected by Cyclone Rene to officially assess the damage.

The cyclone hit Tonga's Vava'u group before battering Ha'apai in yesterday afternoon and the main island of Tongatapu last night.

Disaster officials met this morning to discuss the issue and the office's deputy director, Maliu Takai, says teams will now gather information about the extent of the damage.

But Mr Takai says the cyclone seems to have caused less damage than expected.

"Generally, the situation does not need any humanitarian response. There was also no loss of life or injuries and the damage to infrastructure apart from the power supply and and perhaps the agricultural sector, the food supply, was minimal."

Maliu Takai says police have cleared away debris and trees on about 90 percent of the main roads on Tongatapu.

The teams are set to report back tonight and deliver a report to cabinet tomorrow.

The New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, says financial resources are available to help the Tonga government if it asks following Cyclone Rene.

Mr Key says the Airforce Hercules in the Cook Islands to provide aid supplies for cyclone victims there can be diverted to Tonga if needed.

Meanwhile aid NGOs, such as Oxfam, are preparing to send staff and equipment to Tonga to help with the clean up