Extremely dangerous Category 4 Tropical Cyclone "Gita" slams into Tonga

Extremely dangerous Category 4 Tropical Cyclone

Tropical Storm "Gita" passed near Samoa and American Samoa on February 10 and 11 dropping heavy rain and causing flooding and widespread damage.

Gita reached Tonga on Monday evening, February 12, 2018 (local time) as Category 4 tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 231 km/h (144 mph) and gusts to 278 km/h (173 mph), leaving the entire main island of Tongatapu without power.

The cyclone will enter Fijian territory today, passing the Southern Lau Group on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 possibly strengthening to Category 5.

The Tongan Government declared a state of emergency Monday morning (11:00 local time February 12 / 22:00 UTC, February 11) urging its 100 000 inhabitants to prepare for an extremely dangerous cyclone.

Since Tonga was never hit by Category 5 cyclone and because it was unclear whether Gita will reach Category 5 status before Tonga, their authorities described it as possibly the strongest cyclone ever to hit the island kingdom and asked residents to stay indoors or get to an evacuation center or a church as soon as possible, before 18:00 local time (05:00 UTC). The police in Nuku'alofa said there would be a curfew in place overnight to keep people off the streets.

At 09:00 UTC on February 12 (22:00 local time), the center of Tropical Cyclone "Gita" was right over Tonga and its eyewall was ripping through Tongatapu, including capital Nuku'alofa. Gita's maximum sustained winds were 231 km/h (144 mph) with gusts to 278 km/h (173 mph), making it a Category 4 cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Tongan Police reported earlier that the entire main island of Tongatapu is without power.

At 23:15 local time (10:15 UTC), MET Office at Fua'amotu issued its last bulletin for Gita due to structural damages to the building and equipment.

The weather bulletin will now come from Fiji via NEMO office in Nuku'alofa. "Handing over to Fiji now," the office said.

Tropical Cyclone "Gita" approaching Tonga on February 12, 2018. Credit: JMA/Himawari-8

Category 4 cyclones inflict catastrophic damage: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees can be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles can isolate residential areas, with power outages lasting weeks to possibly months. Most of the area hit hard by Category 4 cyclone is expected to be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Gita's center will move away from the island over the next couple of hours and head toward Fijian territory.

Tropical Cyclone Gita forecast track by RSMC Nadi, Fiji at 07:18 UTC on February 12, 2018

Tropical Cyclone "Gita" forecast track by RSMC Nadi, Fiji at 07:18 UTC on February 12, 2018

Tropical Cyclone Gita JTWC forecast track at 09:00 UTC on February 12, 2018

Tropical Cyclone Gita over Tonga on February 12, 2018

Tropical Cyclone "Gita" over Tonga on February 12, 2018. Credit: NASA Terra/MODIS (Tonga is right in the center)

Gita tore roofs off buildings, destroyed buildings, downed power lines causing widespread power outages and caused extensive flooding across Tonga.

The worst of the cyclone came at a dead low tide, making the impact of storm surges much less than expected.

According to media in Tonga, 3 serious and 30 minor injuries have been reported in Tongatapu island and several buildings have been damaged in the two affected islands of Tongatapu and Eua due to the strong winds.

The Parliament building in the capital Nuku'alofa has been badly damaged and the airport is currently closed. Roofs have been torn apart.

3 035 people have been evacuated in 41 evacuation centers. The roads of the two islands are affected by floods and debris flows. 

Featured image: Tropical Cyclone "Gita" over Tonga at 09:10 UTC on February 12, 2018. Credit: JMA/Himawari-8

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