Fiji Time: 5:43 AM on Monday 26 February

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Night of terror

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Disaster assessment teams in Tonga say water, shelter and food are the immediate needs for people still reeling from the destruction brought by Tropical Cyclone Gita overnight.

Local and international NGOs are working with the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) to try and gauge the extent of the damage on the main island of Tongatapu, which hosted the capital Nuku'alofa and the nearby island of Eua.

On Tongatapu, the Category 4 cyclone brought wind of over 233km/h, which ripped roofs off houses, brought down trees, destroyed a Catholic church, and took the Tongan Met Office and the national radio station offline.

Local youth worker Vanessa Helot, who was volunteering with the Red Cross, said people in the communities they visited were absolutely devastated by the damage and destruction to their homes.

"We are seeing shops with rooftops uprooted, all their goods are exposed. We are seeing floods and also a lot of branches and a lot of electric lines. We have talked to some women this morning — their priorities are water, blankets and food."

She said it would have a huge impact on people's lives in Tonga.

"It is a big issue because this is their livelihood and it is like we have to start all over again. There is no electricity, there is no water. Not everyone has water tanks that has fresh water."

Nuku'alofa resident Joshua Saveeti described the scene as people in his neighbourhood emerged from their shelters, after what he said was a terrifying night.

"Our neighbour just a few houses down, the roof went off, the walls are gone, and all that is left standing there is just all of their furniture and their things."

The family had evacuated earlier in the day, he said.

"They just got home this morning. When they saw their house they just lost it."

Tonga's emergency services said they were struggling to get out and assess the damage after Gita left a trail of destruction.

Roads all over Tongatapu are blocked by debris and downed powerlines hampering relief efforts.

NEMO staff members said a full assessment of the damage may not be available until today.

There are unconfirmed reports two people died.

Emergency services and His Majesty's Armed Forces headed out to assess the damage this morning.

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