2 Jan 2016

Local MP says Tonga escapes major damage from Ula

4:31 pm on 2 January 2016

A Member of Parliament for Vava'u says the area has escaped any significant damage from Cyclone Ula, which swept to the north of the Tongan island group.

The category 3 system brought heavy rain and winds of 150 kilometres an hour with gusts up to 200 kilometres an hour to the region.

The caretaker Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga Samiu Vaipulu, is a hopeful for the post of Prime Minister, and is said to have the backing of the nobles.

Vava'u representative, Samiu Vaipulu. Photo: SPREP

But Samiu Vaipulu says he has been able to preliminary assess part of his constituency and damage is minimal.

"There was very strong winds but I've gone through part of my constituency already and damage is not much. It's just shelters, which is not actual houses, there is about two little shelters. The only thing is fruit trees like breadfruit and mangoes. The mangoes are all down, some of the breadfruit and coconuts."

Samiu Vaipulu says there is hardly any flooding in the area as the water has just run off the dry ground.

Cyclone Ula is expected to weaken as it reaches Fiji's Lau group by tomorrow.

Tourism operator says topography saved islands

One of the largest tourism operators in Vava'u says a few factors led to the Tongan islands escaping major damage from Cyclone Ula, including the local topography.

New Zealand-based Shane Walker runs several businesses in Vava'u and has been in constant contact with his managers since the category 3 storm swept to the north.

Ula brought heavy rain and winds of 150 kilometres an hour but Mr Walker says local infrastructure remains virtually untouched and the tourism industry is also unscathed.

"A good part of Vava'u faces the west and the breeze was coming from the east. Vava'u is quite high in places. The island affords quite a lot of protection to a lot of the tourism and village infrastructure. I think we are pretty lucky that it passed to the north. It was closer than anticipated but by about midday today the breeze was dropping away."

Shane Walker says because Ula was at its most intense during low tide, damage from the sea was also kept to a minimum.

Mr Walker says power has been out most of the day but was expected to resume shortly.

Flights cancelled because of weather

Domestic flights in Tonga have been cancelled until further notice as the kingdom recovers from the adverse conditions brought on by Cyclone Ula.

Kaniva Pacific reports that as a result of Ula's activity, particularly in the north, Real Tonga Airline's domestic flights were cancelled.

Real Tonga's Chief Executive Tevita Palu says they will assess the situation over the weekend to see if flights can resume on Monday.