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By Paul Yandall

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (January 3, 2001 – New Zealand Herald)---The New Zealand Government is preparing to send aid to Tonga after hundreds of homes and crops in the island kingdom were destroyed by Cyclone Waka.

Duty Minister Trevor Mallard said a meeting today in Wellington of Government, Defense and aid officials would consider what relief to send, and how to send it.

"Hopefully by then we will have a request from the [Tongan Government] as to what is needed up there."

He said the Government could begin flying in supplies of food and tarpaulins for emergency shelter once a formal request from Tonga was received.

Most of the relief will be needed in Tonga's northern island group of Vava'u, center of the tourist industry, which bore the brunt of Waka's 250 km/h (150 mph) winds.

The deputy director for Tonga's National Disaster Management Office, Maliu Pakai, said yesterday that buildings and crops had been severely damaged.

"As far as buildings are concerned, 60 to 70 percent have been destroyed or damaged.

"All the food-bearing trees like coconuts and breadfruit have been destroyed."

He said there was general relief that injuries from the storm were only minor, but food supplies would start running out soon.

He said it was likely the Tongan Government would formally ask New Zealand for aid after a meeting of the national disaster committee early today.

Shane Walker, of the Auckland-based Sunsail yacht charter business, said about 10 cruising yachts and launches had been lost in the main harbor of Vava'u.

"Everyone is getting into a serious clean-up mode now. Tourism is the main industry and we're hoping to be back in business in about two weeks."

The weather returned to normal yesterday and shipping services between islands resumed. Communication to Vava'u and other outlying islands was being restored.

Wing Commander Carl Nixon, who flew an RNZAF Orion to Tonga yesterday, said most islands had escaped serious damage, although the destruction in Vava'u was clearly visible.

"From the air we could see that crops had been flattened. Plantations were standing in places but were damaged in others. Vava'u's towns look like they have sustained a lot of damage.

"Pleasingly, there were some other areas [to the south and far north] of the kingdom that were thought to have sustained damage that were not nearly as bad as Vava'u."

Cyclone Waka was over open sea about 800 km (480 miles) southeast of Tonga yesterday afternoon.

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

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