17 Feb 2010

Tonga business chief says situation returning to normal after Monday's cyclone

3:09 pm on 17 February 2010

Tonga's Chamber of Commerce says Cyclone Rene has disrupted business on the main island of Tongatapu, but the situation is returning to normal.

The Chamber of Commerce says the central business district of Nuku'alofa still has no power although it could be restored this evening or tomorrow morning.

It says some businesses have generators and have been able to open, but most are still closed, while some smaller shops have lost stock stored in freezers.

The Chamber's President Paula Taumoepeau says buildings in the town only sustained minor damage, but there has been some disruption to the water supply.

He says while damage on Tongatapu has not been as bad as had been feared, that is not necessarily an indication that Tonga is well prepared for cyclones.

"Well I mean we are getting prepared but I think the problem is people always get complacent. And we were actually lucky that when this hurricane hit Tongatapu it dropped down a bit to a Category Three and they were still quite high winds."

Paula Taumoepeau says the police and army have been quick to clear the roads, and traffic is back to normal levels.

The airport and hospital are believed to be operating as normal.

Meanwhile, disaster officials in Tonga are still assessing the damage to the outer islands which were hit by Cyclone Rene.

Officials in the island groups of Vava'u and Ha'apai say the main damage they have sustained is to food supplies and there are concerns this could lead to shortages.

On the island of Vava'u almost all crops and fruit trees have been destroyed, while there is also extensive damage to crops in Haapai.

Officials say while a few older houses were destroyed or damaged in Vava'u, there was only relatively minor damage on Ha'apai.

Power, water, and telecommunications are expected to be fully restored shortly in Vava'u, while most trees have been cleared from roads.