Last updated: January 12, 2014 at 23:40 pm
Cyclone Ian, the most powerful that whipped across Tonga in decades claimed an elderly woman's life which police said she was Kalolaine Paongo of Pangai in Lifuka, Ha'apai.
The woman's funeral service was held today but authorities did not give further details of the deceased.
Cyclone Ian meandered between Fiji and Tonga early this week but in its last swing at Category 4 towards the Friendly Islands it made landfall in Vava’u on Friday before devastating Ha'apai on Saturday.
Upgraded to Category 5 Cyclone Ian ripped roofs off buildings, flattened houses, uprooted trees, damaged power cables and has caused immense destruction to infrastructure, Sione Taumoefolau head of the Tonga Red Cross said today.
Since communication to the outer island of Ha’apai has been cut off as the cyclone lashed through Taumoefolau said the magnitude and sheer scale of destruction Ian has wrought on the islands not immediately clear.
The main islands of Ha‘ano, Lifuka and Foa were reported to be the most affected areas.
People were evacuated to church buildings while fallen trees and power poles blocked roads.
An image of the Tongaleleka Free Wesleyan Church in Lifuka has been shared on Facebook today.
The image shows the historical church building’s roof has been completely blown off.
The Governor of Ha'apai, Lord Tu'i Ha'angana told media that he could see from one side of the island to the "liku" (cliff-bound coast) at the other end and that’s how horrific the cyclone was.
Following some of the islanders on social media since the powerful tropical cyclone left many said the island had been hit by an "apocalyptic" storm.
A source quoted a representative from the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) as reporting:
“At approximately 2230hrs NEMO officer at Ha'apai reported that 70 per cent of structures were either damaged or completely ruined.
“Water and Power supply were damaged. Prison, TDB, Police Station, church halls (except LDS), civil servant dwellings, Red Cross and NEMO bases damaged. Communication towers down.
“Emergency services now based at the Governor’s office.
Resorts and Tourist accommodation damaged”.
Clear up operation
Ha'apai Governor, Lord Tu'iha'angana called an emergency meeting with the district and town officers as well as government's head of departments today.
Following the meeting locals started clearing up debris and trashes left by Ian but strictly monitored to avoid further disaster, local media report.
The government announced a reconnaissance mission to assess the scale of the damage today.
Deputy Pime Minister Hon Samiu Vaipulu said the Tongan patrol boat VOEA Savea was expected to arrive in Nomuka at 12:00pm today while VOEA Pangai left Neiafu in the morning heading to Ha’apai Islands of Ha’ano and Mo’unga’one. Officers at the VOEAs will assess the situation of the disaster.
New Zealand sent an RNZAF aircraft to assist in the survey.
Hon Vaipulu said once NEMO received the assessment report which was expected for this evening government will do whatever it needs to help the people of Ha’apai.
Some islands residents used social media to plea for help with some asking for tools such as chainsaw and bush knives.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said, New Zealand aid is already helping with the immediate response effort following Cyclone Ian.
"An RNZAF P3 Orion arrived in Tonga this morning to assist with aerial assessments following Tropical Cyclone Ian. We will also make $50,000 immediately available to respond to specific requests for assistance,'' Mr McCully said.
Oxfam New Zealand has also announced that it is expecting to send emergency staff to Tonga to assess the situation on the ground, and identify the most urgent needs.
Carlos Calderon, Pacific Humanitarian Manager for Oxfam, says: “Once the urgent needs are assessed we are expecting to help coordinate the supply of clean water and sanitation for those affected by the disaster.”