24 Jan 2011

Cyclone Wilma intensifies as it approaches Tonga

7:44 pm on 24 January 2011

The Fiji Meteorological Service says a tropical cyclone warning has been issued for Tonga as Cyclone Wilma intensifies.

Wilma is now a category-two cyclone, with winds close to the centre expected to be about 95 kilometres an hour, with gusts of up to 120 kilometres an hour.

Cyclone forecaster Misaeli Funaki says the cyclone has moved away from the Samoa group, and is expected to intensify further as it arrives in Tonga.

"The areas of concern include a bit of northern Tonga, but the whole cyclone is moving into central Tonga. The likelihood that it's going to develop into hurricane force winds within the next 24 hours, we expect people to be experiencing the hurricane force winds within the areas which we are warning out for."

Tonga's National Disaster Office says tropical cyclone and storm conditions are expected for Vava'u in the early hours of the morning, and gale force winds for Niuatoputapu, Tafahi, and Ha'apai island groups.

Mafua Maka, from Tonga's National Disaster Office, says they are providing information to emergency committees in the affected villages.

Low lying areas like Niuatoputapu, the low lying areas will be experiencing storm surge and flooding, so we'd advise them to move to a high area, or higher ground. Sometimes people prepare the usual 72 hours back, like for example an emergency kit.

Mafua Maka says the national and outer island emergency coordination centres have been activated.

The recovery effort is underway in American Samoa now the cyclone has passed the Samoa group.

The emergency operations centre says a lot of families have been moved to evacuation centres as their houses have suffered damage.

A spokesperson for the centre, David Brown, says certain villages are coping with the effects the cyclone has left behind.

A lot of villages are dealing with a lot of power outages and water problems because of the rain overflooding certain water facilities. And a lot of the public are kind of concerned, and we are trying to be patient with them and make sure that when we do turn the water on they are filtered and able to drink.

David Brown says the numbers of people and homes affected has yet to be fully ascertained.