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Public may return to a changed Nuku'alofa CBD next week

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


Back to square one, Nuku'alofa's new look main street, Hala Taufa'ahau in the CBD used to be crowded with traffic and shoppers. 17 January 2007.

The public will be allowed to return to a changed central Nuku'alofa next week when two months of restricted movement will be lifted and pedestrians and traffic movements will be allowed into the central business district.

Colonel Tongapo'uli Aleamotu'a of the Tonga Defence Services said that by next week the public will have free access to public buildings and business houses that were not damaged or burnt in the Nuku'alofa CBD.

"Even today, January 17 some TDS check points on roads within the CBD restricted area have been withdrawn, excepting a part of the Hala Taufa'ahau where work is still being carried out at the TCF building (opposite the former Pacific Royale Hotel), and along Hala Fatafehi where clearing work is still going on at the Royco Building."

He said that by next week only areas and buildings where the police are still carrying out criminal investigations and where reconstruction work was being carried out would be cordoned off.

Two months ago on November 17, 2006 road blocks were set up and restrictions on access into the Nuku'alofa CBD area came into force. It was the last time many people saw central Nuku'alofa. Since then passes have been required to get past the road blocks.

Next week the returning public will have to get used to a new look Nuku'alofa. There are many vacant lots where businesses used to stand, and now the two remaining tall buildings on Hala Taufa'ahau in central Nuku'alofa are the Uata Building and the Maseia Plaza of the Tokai Kolo Christian Fellowship.

Following the destruction of Nuku'alofa on November 16 there has been a slow process of recovery and reconstruction but the lifting of the restriction in the flow of traffic next week is an indication that the police are nearing the completion of their criminal investigation and the demolishing and the clearing out of burnt building and debris is nearly finished.

Don Thompson from the Coffey International Development, an Australian company that is responsible for the managing and the supervising of the demoliltion of the CBD, said that he was happy with the work that had been carried out by the demolition contractors.

"I am very happy with the amount of waste that ended up where it was designated to go because it could have been a thousand times worse, as far as having to go to different sites.

With regards to the dumping of concrete blocks with steel re-enforcement in swamp areas, he said, "there are some areas that we have to look at with the steel, and we have a contractor who could go and clean those areas out to make sure they are safer."

Don said that $691,000 pa'anga was allocated for demolition, and some will be paid out to the five contractors that carriedy out the demolition and the clearing of debris and steel frames. "Not all of that will go to contractors, we have other expenses, materials. As soon as I get the money from AusAid they will be paid."

The demollition of the CBD restricted area is funded by AusAid, while demolition of affected buildings outside the restricted area was funded by the Tongan government at a cost of over $100,000.

To date a total of 678 people have been arrested, including 54 women, and charged with crimes relating to the events of November 16. Those arrested ranged in age from nine years to 70 years old.