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Cyclone Kofi moves away from Tonga

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Tropical Cyclone Kofi brought heavy rain and gusts of up to 48 knots (90kmph) to Tongatapu early this morning as the system moved to the southwest of Tonga, causing broken branches and sea flooding of low lying areas, but no major damage has been reported at this stage.

The Fua‘amotu Tropical Cycone Warning Centre has downgraded the cyclone warning this morning, while a gales warning remains in force for Tonga waters.

The Senior Forecaster, Moleni Tu’uholoaki, said that the maximum wind gust of 48 knots (90kmph) for Tonga was recorded at Fua‘amotu at 5:00am, with mean wind speeds of 28 knots (52kmph), when the centre of Cyclone Kofi was southwest of Tongatapu, this morning Sunday March 2.

The lowest pressure recorded at Fua‘amotu for Kofi was 993.5mb at 4:00am this morning.

In the 24 hours from 10:00am Saturday to 10:00am Sunday, they recorded 112.2mm of rainfall at Fua‘amotu. “Nearly half of that was between 1:00am and 7:00am with 41mm rainfall recorded at that time,” said Moleni.

The maximum wind speed recorded in Ha‘apai on Satuday night was 16 knots.

Meanwhile, this morning a gale warning remained in force for Ha‘apai, Tongatapu and 'Eua and nearby islands today Sunday, with an extreme high tide of over 1.8m at 8:25pm. Extreme high tides are also expected on Monday and Tuesday, March 3-4.

Sea flooding

Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) was assessing Tongatapu for damage on Sunday.

Leveni ‘Aho, NEMO director, said that nothing significant had been reported so far but they would do a full report later today. In Nuku‘alofa the low-lying areas of Popua and Sopu had been affected by sea surge with an extreme high tide. At Popua the water was flooding some roads. At Kolovai some vulnerable families had moved into community halls on Saturday.

Other island groups were alright.

We were gravely concerned for Ha‘apai but the reports are that Cyclone Kofi has not affected Ha‘apai,” he said.

Many Ha‘apai families are still living in tents after Cyclone Ian hit the group in January, and the tents would not stand up to the winds forecast for Cyclone Kofi over the weekend.

NEMO asked them to move to more secure places like the Mormon Churches, and to take down the tents and secure them with blocks on top – there was no time to pack the tents because it was wet,” he said.

Empty warehouse

Leveni said that NEMO had alerted its donor partners Australia and New Zealand yesterday to remain on standby for airlifting supplies, as the cyclone approached Tonga.

If it did hit again, we had no stock left here to respond to an emergency,” he said. “We need to restock our supplies. Our warehouse is empty after the response to Ian.”

Leveni said they needed to replenish the tents, tarpaulins, and clearance equipment such as chainsaws that had gone to Ha‘apai after Cyclone Ian in January. “The army used 36 chainsaws to start the clearance work – there was so much debris, and that’s where we need to be prepared,” he said.

Leveni said NEMO does not stock food supplies, as that response usually comes from NGOs and families.