Initial reports have confirmed no casualties in Vava'u which has escaped major damage to infrastructure, apart from fallen trees due to Tropical Cyclone Ula over the last 24 hours. A state of emergency issued only for Vava’u and Ha’apai remains in force to be reviewed. While Tonga's climate experts say that a lack of moisture to drive the system prevented it from intensifying into a devastating Category 4 or 5 storm.
A state of emergency issued only for Vava’u and Ha’apai remains in force and is being reviewed while the cyclone remains in Tongan waters.
Deputy Prime Minister Hon Siaosi Sovaleni in his capacity as Chairman of the National Emergency Management Committee said in a press conference this afternoon that no casualties were reported by police and they had checked with the hospital and verified with town officers in Vava’u. He said the state of emergency declared last night was specifically only for Vava’u and Ha’apai and not the whole country.
“The state of emergency remains until we have a complete picture of what is happening in Vava'u, we will be reviewing it continuously to see whether it warrants to keep it,” he said.
The committee would have a better idea later this afternoon of the damages when people went out to look at their houses.
“We had 11 evacuation centres, over 390 people were relocated to these evacuation centres. At about 3:21 am electricity was shut down for safety reasons but we are hoping to restore power this afternoon.”
An operational centre was based in the police headquarters last night but but now relocated to the Governor's office while an operation centre has been working from the NEMO office in Nuku'alofa 24-hours a day, since 31 December.
He said there were reports that many trees had fallen down. Some had been cleared especially those to the wharf and Lupepau'u Airport in Vava'u
“We were expecting the worst last night as it was heading straight at Vava’u and fortunately it got diverted a little, we are fortunate -We are very happy that there are no casualties,” Hon. Sovaleni said.
'Ofa Fa'anunu, Director of Tonga Met said that Ha'apai was experiencing its strongest gusts from Cyclone Ula early this afternoon, with winds up to 40 knots - gusting to 60 knots (120kph). He said Tonga was lucky that a category 4 cyclone did not develop.
“One thing that is interesting is that it has been trying to intensify. Toward the south there is no moisture. It needs a lot of moisture to develop but it was moving in from an area of low moisture. We were surprised it was still sustained. It is still a category three right now. The winds around in the upper atmosphere are very favourable for developing [the cyclone] but the moisture from down below to provide the energy for the system is not there - just spinning, just very dry air coming up from down below brought up by the high. On another day it would probably have become a category five - if the moisture had been present it would have been the right ingredients for development into a much stronger system,” said 'Ofa.