TONGA, NIUE FACE POWERFUL CYCLONE WAKA

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 31, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Tonga's main islands and Niue are preparing to face damaging winds and heavy seas as powerful Tropical Cyclone Waka threatens severe damage.

This morning Waka was battering one of Tonga's northernmost islands, Niuafo'ou, 640 kilometers (384 miles) north of Nuku'alofa, with gusts of up to 110 knots.

On its current course it will hit the heart of the Tongan islands.

Waka has already battered the French territory of Wallis and Futuna.

The cyclone, spawned in an area north of Wallis and Futuna two days ago, has been gaining intensity on its southeast track.

The Nadi Tropical Cyclone Center said this morning that a hurricane warning is in force for the Niuafo'ou, Vava'u, Ha'apai, Kotu and Nomuka groups in Tonga.

A gale warning is in force for Tongatapu and Niuatoputapu in Tonga and a cyclone alert for Niue.

It said close to its center the cyclone is expected to have average winds of 80 knots, with momentary gusts to 110 knots, heavy rain, phenomenal seas and damaging heavy swells.

Winds on Tongatapu - site of the capital, Nuku'alofa - are expected to be gusting to 65 knots by tomorrow morning. Flooding, including sea flooding is expected, the Nadi center said.

Niue Economic Review editor Stafford Guest reported that on Niue it was raining heavily with thunderstorms predicted.

Residents have been warned of high winds and rough seas beginning this evening.

Many people have erected shutters over windows and doors, he said.

Most exposed are buildings on the western side of the island, including the Niue Hotel, Matavai Resort and several motels.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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