NIUE ESCAPES MAJOR BATTERING FROM CYCLONE WAKA

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ALOFI, Niue (January 1, 2002 – Niue Economic Review)---Niue escaped a major battering from Cyclone Waka as it passed about 200 miles southeast of the island yesterday.

No severe damage has been reported although six meter (about 20 foot) seas bashed the 90 meter (297 foot) cliffs around the island and 80 kph (48 mph) winds felled trees.

There were no injuries reported.

All public functions planned for New Year's Eve were postponed, but will be staged tonight.

Waka sideswiped Niue from between noon and 4:00 p.m.

The island was on full alert the previous night and many shops and tourist properties covered windows and doors with shutters.

Meanwhile the New Zealand Herald reports Cyclone Waka tore through Tonga yesterday, sinking yachts and destroying homes and crops, but the island kingdom escaped the loss of life it was feared the hurricane-force winds would bring.

The cyclone was expected to be out of the region today, leaving Tonga's northern islands, which bore the brunt of the 250 kmh (150 mph) gusts and six meter (about 20 foot) seas, battered and isolated.

Communication to the island group of Vava'u was cut yesterday as Waka demolished homes and ripped down power and phone lines at the popular tourist destination.

Around 15,000 people live on Vava'u Island, most in the main town of Neiafu.

Shane Walker of the Auckland-based Sunsail yacht chartering business, which has yachts in Neiafu, said fellow New Zealander Mark Managh managed to contact him by satellite phone last night.

"He said there isn't a single tree standing up there. It is like the island has been sandblasted, it is that devastating," he told the New Zealand Herald.

"The few houses that haven't been demolished have lost their roofs. There are power lines lying all over the streets. The town is a complete mess."

Mr. Walker said power and water supplies on the island had failed and all the crops in the area had been wiped out.

"Mark's a pretty hard character but he's really shaken. He was terrified. They stopped looking at the wind dial after it passed 100 knots [185 kmh/111 mph] and just hung on for their lives."

He said several yachts and boats had been sunk and large ship containers had been tossed into the sea. A restaurant was destroyed when a catamaran was thrown into it.

Many resorts on outlying northern islands were still cut off last night.

The northern island of Niuafo'ou, 600 kilometers (360 miles) north of the capital, Nuku'alofa, reported damage to buildings, trees and crops, but no injuries.

The Herald reports New Zealand MetService senior forecaster Steve Ready as saying the cyclone center was about 400 kilometers (240 miles) south of Niue and was moving steadily southeast.

"It has loosened its grip on the Pacific Islands of Tonga and Niue now," he said.

"The cyclone has moved out over the open sea of the South Pacific and it's liable to keep moving southeast over the open sea."

Duty Minister Trevor Mallard said the New Zealand Government had approved sending an Air Force aircraft to look at the damage in Tonga.

For additional reports from the Niue Economic Review, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Magazines/Journals/Niue Economic Review.

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