RECORD DOWNPOUR FLOODS TONGAN CAPITAL

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 9, 2008) – The Tonga Defence Force's quick reaction team responded last night to several calls for help as low-lying areas around Nuku'alofa were submerged during the greatest rainfall ever recorded in the kingdom.

At 10 am today the Fua'amotu weather station measured a total of 289.2mm (11.3 inches) of rain in the 24 hrs from 10 am on Friday February 8 to 10am on February 9. The Nuku'alofa weather station recorded 250.5mm in the same period.

"This is the greatest rainfall we have ever had in the kingdom," said the duty forecaster 'Ofa Taumoepeau this morning. It is more than the very heavy rainfall experienced in Tonga in 2006.

Another climatologist working for the Tonga Meteorological Office said it was without doubt "an extreme event."

This daily fall compares to mean rainfall for the whole month of February of 221mm for Fua'amotu and 210mm for Nuku'alofa.

Vehicles test the waters in a Ma'ufanga side street.

Last night a team of 6-8 TDS soldiers assisted some families in the Pahu area who needed help to move out of their homes, and they also responded between 7-8pm to a request from the Australian High Commission on Hala Salote to help move equipment after the property flooded on the lower level.

Second Lt. Esu Tupou said the area was deep in water.

"The water was up to their knees in some parts."

He said that a low lying area of Hala Vaha'akolo near the Council of Churches office and on Hala Taufa'ahau at Fanga were also heavily flooded.

"Cars couldn't work and they found some cars stuck without drivers.

"They came across pigs and dogs swimming in the water."

At the Australian High Commission offices it was a chance for Tonga to give Australia some aid.

The Australian High Commissioner, Bruce Hunt, said that by 7 pm the water had flooded to about 1 foot in the back yard with less than an inch of water entering parts of the lower level of the immigration and consular offices.

"If only it was over a dam in Australia I would have been jumping for joy," he said.

"The TDS came in a flash and very kindly helped us lift furniture and equipment," said the High Commissioner.

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