Strong cyclone hits Tonga, killing at least 1

UKU’ALOFA, Tonga (AP) — The most powerful cyclone in decades to lash the South Pacific nation of Tonga destroyed homes and ripped roofs from churches, killing at least one person, as authorities scrambled Sunday to assess damage.

Up to 70 percent of the homes and buildings in some areas had been flattened, said Kalolaine Kavaefiafi, spokeswoman for the child welfare charity Plan International.

Cyclone Ian hit Tonga on Saturday with gusts up to 287 kilometers (178 miles) per hour. The storm was later downgraded from the top of five-scale destructive cyclones to category four, with gusts of up to 250 kph (155 mph). On Sunday, the cyclone was tracking southeast away from Tonga.

An aerial survey of the damage was underway to assess the destruction and two navy patrol boats were on their way to the disaster area, Tonga’s Director of Emergencies Leveni Aho said.

“It’s pretty bad,” Aho said of the damage. “By this evening, we’ll have a much better picture of what’s happened.”[Read more]