TONGANS CANCEL NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS AS CYCLONE WAKA ROARS PAST

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 1, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Many New Year celebrations were cancelled in Tonga as powerful Cyclone Waka hit parts of the kingdom with winds gusting to 135 knots.

But fears Waka would rip through low lying, heavily populated Tongatapu - including the capital, Nuku'alofa - eased today as the cyclone center moved to the southeast.

The Nadi Tropical Cyclone Center said Monday afternoon that Waka was about 190 miles east southeast of Nuku'alofa, continuing to move southeast and slowly weakening.

By Monday evening Waka is expected to be 260 miles east-southeast of Nuku'alofa, the Nadi center reported.

It warned of rough to very rough seas and damaging heavy southeast swells along Tongatapu coastal areas.

Earlier, the Nadi center warned that parts of Tonga would be hit with destructive winds and "phenomenal" seas flooding some low lying islands.

Waka first hit Niuafo'ou in the kingdom's far north after spawning in an area north of the French territory of Wallis and Futuna.

Paul Cheesman, Tonga's chief meteorological officer, told the New Zealand Herald that there were reports Waka destroyed homes on Niuafo'ou and ripped up trees.

Waka next hit the northern Vava'u group -- a key center of Tonga's tourism industry -- as it moved southeast.

Tongan Beach Resort manager Natalie Harrison told the New Zealand Herald from the Vava'u town of Neiafu last night: "We're dealing with 120 kmh (72 mph) winds right now and they're telling us it's going to get worse, so it's a matter of battening down and hoping for the best."

Resort guest Shane Sampson, of Auckland, told the New Zealand Herald: "It’s been gradually getting worse - with five meter (16.5 feet) swells out there right now."

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

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