Tonga rings in 2016 with Cyclone Ula

The extent of damage in Tonga is becoming more clear in the wake of Cyclone Ula.

The Tongan Meteorological Service reported wind speeds up to 150kmph as Cyclone Ula raged through the Pacific kingdom on 1st and 2nd January. A state of emergency was declared by the Prime Minister and hundreds of people were evacuated to shelter.

Staff from Oxfam’s partner organisation Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) reported that in Vava’u, the electricity line was knocked out, but has already been repaired. Telephone lines have been damaged, roofs have been blown off properties and it is still too windy for repair work. Crops from fruit trees, particularly breadfruit and mangoes, have been lost and the sea is still too rough for boat travel.

Weather warnings remain in place as the storm heads towards Fiji’s southern islands with sustained wind speeds of up to 140kmph.

Carlos Calderon, Pacific Humanitarian Manager for Oxfam New Zealand, says: “Global temperature increases and the super charged El Niño meant the Pacific suffered an unusually large number of intense tropical cyclones in 2015. Already, the people of Tonga have rung in the new year with a category three cyclone. Extreme weather events like Cyclone Ula are likely to become increasingly common. For many communities in the Pacific already affected by drought and flooding from king tides, life in 2016 looks like it’s going to become even tougher.”

Oxfam will be sending humanitarian staff to Tonga to work with TNYC to assess the situation on the ground, and identify communities’ most urgent needs. Oxfam has emergency supplies ready in place funded by the New Zealand Aid Programme, and is ready to potentially coordinate a response with local aid agencies.

In January 2014, Tropical Cyclone Ian ripped through the Ha'apai islands in Tonga, destroying buildings and homes. Oxfam launched an emergency response, providing access to safe water, ensuring sanitation needs were met, and helping people recover their livelihoods so they can earn a living and support themselves and their families.

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