In this Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 photo, first responders with a backhoe work amid strong winds and heavy rain from Tropical Storm Gita to clear part of the main road at Fagaalu village in American Samoa. Officials in American Samoa began a full assessment Monday, Feb. 12, of damage caused by tropical storm Gita over the weekend. (AP Photo/Fili Sagapolutele)

Tonga begins cleanup while Fiji prepares for Cyclone Gita

February 12, 2018 - 7:38 pm
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Tonga began cleaning up Tuesday after a cyclone hit overnight, while some people in the nearby Pacific nation of Fiji began preparing for the storm to hit them.

Cyclone Gita destroyed homes and churches in Tonga and caused widespread power outages after it tore through the island nation just south of the capital, Nuku'alofa. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths.

The cyclone was packing winds of over 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour) when it made landfall. The nation has declared a state of emergency.

The cyclone was continuing to intensify and was predicted to hit some southern Fiji islands Tuesday night. Experts predict the cyclone will miss Fiji's major population centers, 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 urged elderly and disabled people to begin moving into evacuation centers.

The storm has strengthened since hitting Samoa and American Samoa last week, where it caused damage to buildings, widespread power outages and flooding.

President Donald Trump on Sunday declared an emergency in American Samoa, a U.S. territory. The declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide equipment and resources to help the 50,000 residents recover.

Chris Brandolino, a scientist at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said flooding and coastal inundation would likely cause as many problems in Tonga as the damage from the winds.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government was on standby and ready to help Tonga, which is home to about 105,000 people.

On Monday before the storm hit, publisher Pesi Fonua said people were busy nailing boards and roofing iron to their homes to try to limit the damage from coconuts, trees and other debris.

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