| 13.02,18. 10:29 PM |
Cyclone Gita: Aid arrives in Tonga as the storm builds on it's way to Fiji
Photo: Over 230kph winds and heavy rain from Cyclone Gita destroyed homes in Tonga. (Supplied: Uatesoni Paea)
Photo: Uatesoni Paea — a Logan resident whose house in Tonga was destroyed — supplied this image of Gita's aftermath in Nuku'alofa. (Supplied: Uatesoni Paea)
Australia and New Zealand have flown emergency aid supplies to Tonga where the clean-up from Cyclone Gita has begun, and as the category-four storm intensifies and heads west towards nearby Fiji.
The Australian Government said it was sending $350,000 worth of emergency supplies to Tonga immediately.
The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, told ABC Radio Australia's Pacific Beat Program the Royal Australian Air Force was flying the aid to Tonga tonight.
"A Defence Force plane — a C-17A Globemaster — is departing with humanitarian assistance and will reach Tonga this evening." she said.
"We are sending life-saving equipment, emergency shelter, kitchen and hygiene kits."
Senator Fierravanti-Wells said humanitarian relief supplies, including tarpaulins and water purification tablets, had been released through the Tongan Red Cross.
The New Zealand Government said its defence force was taking 12 tonnes of aid supplies and a 10-member team to Tonga to assess the damage.
New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, told Pacific Beat the team would help authorities identify worst-hit areas.
"It's very, very serious although some of the comments suggest that much more has survived than they thought … in terms of buildings and assets." he said.
The clean up begins in Tonga
Tropical Cyclone Gita brought widespread flooding and winds exceeding 230 kilometres an hour as it tore through the main island of Tongatapu just south of the capital, Nuku'alofa.
Photos posted on social media showed a wrecked Parliament House building in the capital, as well as extensive flooding and downed power lines.
Tongan noble lawmaker Lord Fusitu'a said it was a great disappointment the Parliament building had been knocked down.
"Successive legislatures over the years have suggested building a new Parliament House, and I guess that'll be a necessity now," he said.
Access to areas outside the capital were hindered by the storm damage and debris.
About 5,000 people stayed in evacuation centres overnight, according to officials but there were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths.
The cyclone continues to intensify and is forecast to hit some of Fiji's southern islands later this evening as a category-five storm, although it's likely to miss Fiji's major population centres, including the capital, Suva.
About 2,500 people living on two of Fiji's islands were at risk, the nation's National Disaster Management Office told Radio New Zealand.
Director Anare Leweniqila said emergency supplies of food and water were being gathered, and elderly and disabled people were being urged move into evacuation centres.
The storm strengthened since hitting Samoa and American Samoa last week, where it caused damage to buildings, widespread power outages and flooding.