17 Jan 2014

NZ sends more cyclone aid to Tonga

9:34 pm on 17 January 2014

The New Zealand Government has sent more money and assistance to Tonga after a devastating cyclone ripped through the country last weekend.

One person was killed, 14 were injured and thousands left homeless when Cyclone Ian, a category 5 storm, battered the Pacific nation including the northern Ha'apai group of islands from 11 January.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said more than 300 emergency shelter kits were flown on a Defence Force Hercules to Tonga on Friday, after a request from the Tongan government, providing temporary shelter to over 2000 people.

The Government has also committed a further $300,000 to New Zealand aid organisations working on the ground, bringing New Zealand's post-cyclone support to $500,000.

The New Zealand High Commissioner said he is working closely with the Tonga's government to provide short and long-term relief in Ha'apai.

Mark Talbot said things are beginning to move along, with relief such as shelter, fresh water, food and assistance with sanitation coming in. Schools have been severely hit in some places and won't be safe to return to, but the government is working to provide temporary classrooms.

Cyclone Ian destroyed homes and possessions on Lifuka Island in Ha'apai.

Cyclone Ian destroyed homes and possessions on Lifuka Island in Ha'apai. Photo: TONGA DAILY NEWS

Waterborne disease threat

Cyclone Ian caused significant damage to buildings and some infrastructure. The Ministry of Health in Tonga is trying to fix cyclone-damaged water and sanitation systems as the possibility an outbreak of waterborne disease becomes a threat.

On Friday morning, 20 tonnes of water, clothing and food items from other parts of the country arrived at a warehouse in Ha'apai and would be distributed by night.

The health inspector in charge of water and sanitation, Folau Hola, said the low-lying areas of Ha'apai are in a critical situation because of rising sea levels contaminating wells, and most rooftop collection systems were destroyed during the cyclone.

Mr Hola said ministry workers are working hard to test well water and upgrade water collection systems. There had been no reports of illness, but the ministry was still urging people to use only bottled or boiled water.

The ministry's director of health Dr Siale Akauola said a wing of the local hospital was damaged but running water and power have been restored and it is 85% operational.

Telecommunications company Digicel says all vital communication has been restored to cyclone-hit areas of Ha'apai.