“My family were swimming inside the house,” said Patangata Community Policing Officer, Sami Mafi, after Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold sent a waist-high storm surge through the community soon after dawn on Thursday morning.
Five of his family were in the house, while he was out helping people evacuate from the vulnerable fishing settlement, built on a sand spit at the entrance to Tongatapu's Fanga'uta lagoon.
“They sat on the bed to get out of the water,” he said.
“It wasn't the rain, it was the sea came in. The water hit the house, the door opened, my family were swimming inside the house.”
Sami was out in his car ferrying people to villages inland. He said no-one was hurt, but their homes were damaged and wet. Their biggest worry is the loss of the fishing boats.
The cyclonic sea surge converged with a king tide and swept over the breakwater, across the road, through the settlement, across the exposed reef and into the lagoon, smashing boats and sweeping away nets.
Sami pointed out where his fishing boat landed, overturned and half buried in a pile of debris, about 200m inland from his flooded home. He said the engine was like a car engine that was inside the boat, but the boat had overturned.
His family were dumping sodden mattresses, clothes and belongings out into the front of the house, which is brightly painted with the red and white Tongan flag.
Nearby, another destroyed fishing boat was wrapped around a power pole. Other broken fishing boats and a tangle of nets were trapped up on the rocks of the breakwater.
Patangata people depend on fishing for their daily existence. Now they have few, if any, functioning boats, outboards, or nets left to work with.
The silver lining was, perhaps, that the sea surge dumped hundreds of tons of sand and rock over the breakwater and onto the Patangata roadside.
“We've been waiting for funds to build the road, but now Cyclone Harold has delivered,” said a Ministry of Infrastructure team inspecting the damage.
Graders were clearing the area early Thursday morning.
- By Mary Lyn Fonua
See also, Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold:
TC Harold could have been worse
Body found at 'Eua, not cyclone victim
TC Harold demolishes Sunset Coast beach resorts
No lives lost during Severe TC Harold
Extreme high tide warning for Tonga as cyclone coincides with king tide and supermoon