SEVEN FEARED LOST AT SEA DURING CYCLONE CORA FOUND --TONGA CLEANS UP

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (December 28, 1998 - The Press On Line) -- Six people and a baby reported missing from a fishing boat after Cyclone Cora blasted through Tonga's central and southern islands are alive and well.

Radio Tonga news editor Arnold Manu said last night that police had confirmed the group was safe.

The seven were reported missing on Saturday in high seas off the central Ha'apai group of islands after setting out in the fishing boat on Christmas Day.

"When they realized strong winds were approaching they diverted their journey to seek shelter at Uoleva island," Mr. Manu said.

"They spent all of Friday night and Saturday on Uoleva before leaving yesterday morning."

Winds reached up to 160 km/h (100 mph) during the cyclone, which moved away from the islands by early Saturday evening.

Phone services had been restored to about 70,000 people on Tonga's main island of Tongatapu but some were still without electricity.

Although some roofs were ripped, off most homes did not receive major damage.

A police spokesman said a major concern was possible food shortages.

"We've had extensive damage to crops, especially breadfruit, bananas, and food crops, both in the northern islands and now the central island of Tongatapu," he said.

Any crops that survived could die in the next few days as seawater flooding soaked into the ground.

No injuries had been reported, but Mr. Manu said no reports had yet been received from outlying islands. The government had not declared a state of emergency, but Mr. Manu said it was possible it would today.

Cyclone Cora was not as severe as Cyclone Hina, which devastated the islands in March 1997.

A Foreign Affairs spokesman, James Funnell, said the Tongan Government had not approached New Zealand for help.

However, the New Zealand High Commission in Tonga had confirmed damage was not severe.

Tongan officials were carrying out further assessments and would contact the High Commission if help was needed, he said.

A MetService spokesman, Chris Webster, said yesterday that winds on the island had dropped considerably and the cyclone was well out to the south-east of Tonga.

"It's pretty much open ocean now around that area, but it's still of

considerable interest for shipping because anyone who's around there

still obviously needs to know about it."

The cyclone was moving south-east at 30 km/h (19 mph), and maximum winds close to

its center were 65 knots.

Mr. Webster said a weather forecast office in Fiji provided good warning

of the cyclone.

Pacific cyclones are usual at this time of year, but with La Niña more were expected to "drift down towards New Zealand, but this one won't".

He said Cyclone Cora would not affect conditions around New Zealand.--

TONGA RETURNING TO NORMAL AFTER CYCLONE CORA

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (December 29, 1998 - PACNEWS)---The Kingdom of Tonga is slowly returning to normal in the aftermath of Cyclone Cora.

Most government offices and businesses in the capital Nuku'alofa were still closed today as the National Disaster and Relief Rehabilitation Committee met this afternoon to estimate damage from the cyclone.

Cora hit Tonga over the weekend, battering its central islands with winds of up to 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph).

There were no deaths or injuries and damage to property and buildings has been slight, however, a new wharf commissioned three months ago in the Ha'apai group has been washed away.

Most telephone and power links have been restored, The main concern now is about food.

Breadfruit and banana plantations and root crops have been badly damaged, raising forecasts of a food shortage for several months, because many people in the kingdom rely on subsistence farming.

It also further aggravates the situation for hundreds of people in the outer islands already suffering from a food shortage because of a prolonged drought.

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