TONGA HARD HIT BY CYCLONE

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Many trees and power poles down

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 6, 2009) - Cyclone Lin brought storm force winds to most of Tonga over the weekend gusting up to 60 knots (110 kph) on Tongatapu and damaging trees, gardens and power lines, before moving away to the south east.

The worst effects of the storm were felt on Tongatapu where the power was shut down on at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning because of the damage being caused to power lines by the strong winds.

"The damage is extensive to poles and lines," said David Wright, the Acting CEO of Tonga Power Ltd. "We had all staff called out at 9 a.m. on Sunday but it was 2:00 p.m. before the winds abated sufficiently to begin reconnection. Every section of lines must be progressively checked and made safe before services can be restored. The priority was to reconnect the high voltage line out to the hospital, followed by Nuku΄alofa and the high voltage line to the airport.”

By 4 p.m. today Monday, he said they were back to about 70 percent of normal daily demand on Tongatapu. "We are trying to get services restored to all homes before Easter," he said, "but the crews have to be stood down now for essential rest."

Cyclone Lin cleaned out the billboards near the Royal Palace

There were still many fallen lines and he advised that people to treat all lines as if they are live. "We will not reconnect electricity until all power lines have been checked and made safe but please do not touch any fallen lines and treat them as live lines at all times.

By Monday evening power had been restored to most parts of Nuku΄alofa with the exception of parts of Sopu.

"We have a number of poles to replace and will complete restoring power to remaining areas of Sopu tomorrow, Tuesday 7 April. In addition there are many service lines to individual houses in Nuku΄alofa that are broken and we hope to restore power to all homes by tomorrow.

"We will commence to restore power beyond Puke and Tokomololo to the Western side of Tongatapu tomorrow. It is unlikely that we will complete restoring power to all villages and individual homes before Thursday.

Almost a hurricane

The Director of Meteorological Services ΄Ofa Fa΄anunu said that at the Fua΄amotu weather station they recorded storm force winds gusting up to 60 knots at 1 p.m. on Sunday. This was just below hurricane force of 63 knots.

The centre of the cyclone was intensifying as it passed across Tonga between Ha΄apai and Tongatapu on Sunday.

"I think it came over the top of us because the winds died down suddenly for a while but I couldn't see an eye because it was overcast,” said ΄Ofa. The weather station was running on a back-up generator after the main power line to the airport was shut down.

A strong wind warning was still in force for Tonga last night as the cyclone was followed by a trail of strong winds in a monsoon trough. He said that Ha΄apai and Vava΄u were still recording winds of 30-40 knots.

Many people on Tongatapu reported damage to their trees and gardens. Several old trees along the Vuna Road waterfront east of the Royal Palace came down in the storm. On Sunday Vuna Road was blocked in at least two places by fallen trees, including one of the last old Norfolk pines near the Royal Palace and a large banyon tree on the seafront near the Captain Cook Apartments.

The storm also brought down billboards, signposts and aerials, and the internet service was disrupted this morning.

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