- POSTED: 12 Jan 2014 05:42
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At least one person was killed when powerful Cyclone Ian ploughed into Tonga's northern Ha'apai islands, causing extensive damage and destroying houses.
NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga: At least one person was killed when powerful Cyclone Ian ploughed into Tonga's northern Ha'apai islands, causing extensive damage and destroying houses, reports said on Sunday.
The full extent of the destruction began to emerge after communications were partially restored a day after Tonga's first category five cyclone struck early Saturday morning.
Initial reports on Saturday said the cyclone had left minor damage.
Ian was downgraded to a category four cyclone late Saturday morning, but increased in intensity later in the day and was restored to the most severe rating of category five.
By Sunday there were reports of houses destroyed and trees flattened across the island chain, which is home to about 8,000 people and popular with tourists.
The head of the Tonga Red Cross, Sione Taumoefolau, said he had been informed of one death in Ha'apai but did not have further details.
He said staff in the region told him by satellite phone the main island of Lifuka was devastated.
Tupou Ahomee Faupula from Tonga's cell phone provider Digicel said his field officer in Ha'apai, Uaisele Fonokalafi, reported widespread devastation.
"He told us that this was the worst ever damage from a cyclone. Most houses are flattened, roofs are off, trees and power lines are down."
The Tonga navy was sending two patrol boats to Ha'apai and the Matangi Tonga news website reported the government was considering overseas aid.
Australia and New Zealand have had aircraft and emergency supplies on standby since the cyclone hit.
"Ian is still a category five this morning," Aisea Akau'ola, at the Fua'amotu Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre said on Sunday.