15 Feb 2010

Tonga's capital to get full force of Rene about midnight tonight

8:29 pm on 15 February 2010

The Tonga capital Nuku'alofa has begun experiencing what are set to become increasingly fierce winds, with Cyclone Rene promising storm conditions that one disaster official has called the worst in 50 years.

Rene, which has been downgraded to a category three cyclone, is still forecast to carry sustained winds of 155 kilometres an hour and momentary gusts as strong as 230 kilometres.

It is coinciding with a high tide and with very high seas predicted, along with very heavy rain, flooding of low lying areas is expected.

A short time ago our correspondent in Nuku'alofa, Mateni Tapueluelu, said there had already been some power outages and they have been warned that international phone links will shortly be lost.

Mr Tapueluelu says the Government has been encouraging people to gather in large public buildings for their safety.

"They have urged people to escape to town halls, churches, if they need to. They have got the approval of churches and schools. All primary schools can be used by people if they feel their homes are not safe. Police expect that the full force of the tropical cyclone will be in Tongatapu at about midnight and by that time there will be high tide and people around the coastal areas have been warned there could be flooding."