Cyclone takes roof off government building; photo of damage stirs controversy, complaints

Category One Cyclone Zazu was strong enough to rip off the rooftop of this government evacuation building in Leimātu’a in Vava‘u. Photo. ‘Etimoni Vete (Facebook)

Cyclone Zazu has ripped off the rooftop of a government evacuation building in Leimātu’a in Vava‘u.

The damage, which occurred on December 14, has triggered huge debate online and a town officer has been threatened with court action.

The damage went unnoticed until a photo surfaced yesterday on Facebook.

The photo was posted by Neiafu Town Officer Vāvā Lapota, who said it was important for the building of the centre to make sure it could withstand a category five tropical cyclone.

The photo was taken by Leimātu’a Town Officer Etimoni Vete. Vete told Kaniva News he took the photo as part of his report to the Ministry of Disaster Management (MEIDECC) of the damage caused by Zazu.

He uploaded the photo, together with several other pictures of damage caused by Cyclone Zazu, to his Facebook page on December 15. He said at the time he did not allow his people to make comment under the photos.

MEIDECC Minister Poasi Tei told Kaniva News the building was left unfinished before Zazu struck.

The Minister of Infrastructure has been contacted for comment.

Tropical Cyclone Zazu was reported to be a category one system with winds gusting up to 120 kilometre an hour.

On December 15 at noon TVNZ reported that Zazu had passed by the islands of Vava’u bringing destructive storm force winds, thunderstorms and high seas.

Some people have questioned the structural soundness of the building before the cyclone struck.

Government supporters blasted Lapota, saying he politicised the damage and shared the photo online to denigrate the government.

Lapota denied this and said it was part of his job to let the people knew what had happened in the community and he did this from time to time without being selective.

Leimātu’a local George Paongo said in Tongan it was good to report the damage so people knew about how their taxes were being used.

“Mea lelei ohake ketau ilo kihe gaahi maumau oku hoko ki heetau tukuhau koe natula fou kihe hufaga iha afaa ka koeni e uluaki haea ia,” he said.

Critics also referred to the damages caused by Zazu to the government’s newly constructed road under the Prime Minister’s multi-million road project.

As Kaniva News reported last week, some new roads were overwhelmed by flooding and some roads were closed  because of the damage.

Lapota told Kaniva News he was contacted by a person who said his name was Angus Naupoto and claimed to have built the Leimātu’a evacuation centre. He accused Lapota of lying to the public by saying that the evacuation centre was damaged by Cyclone Yasa. Naupoto told Lapota to remove the photo or he would sue him. Lapota told Naupoto he stood by his post. The Town Officer told Naupoto to go ahead and sue him and said he would never remove the photo.

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