Death toll climbs to nine on remote Niuatoputapu

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Oct. 1, 2009) – Another boat is due to be sent to Niuatoputapu later today with extra supplies for the Tongan island devastated by the island.

Nine people died when waves hit the island and up to 95 per cent of the main village of Hihifo is said to have been damaged.

A patrol boat arrived last night with police, Ministry of Health, Disaster Relief and Red Cross workers on board.

Red Cross field officer, Kato Latavao, says they have spoken to those that have arrived in Niuatoptapu about what was needed:

"The priority now is the bedding and clothing, and water will be the next one, but as I said with the report from there, not the fresh coconut only but the next village the water supply is alright."

Kato Latavao says it was fortunate the first boat to arrive took some bales of clothing.

She says the two smaller villages still have water supplies and a number of buildings including a newly built high school have survived and are providing some shelter.

Alfred Soakai from Tonga’s National Disaster office says about 1300 to 1600 people live on Nuiatoputapu island and locals are now experiencing some relief.

"There’s a lot of scared people there at the moment but they are slowly being counselled by the staff that went up on the patrol boat."

Alfred Soakai says people have enough food, shelter and medicine but they must now look on to the second stage of providing assistance.

He says the hospital is completely destroyed, and the island has lost a lot of infrastructure.

"If you could pass your mind back to the tsunami in 2004, there’re similar images of flattening villages. In one village of Hihifa we have over 90 percent of the buildings damaged, trees upturned, and we could still see seawater over the low lying areas of the island."

The tourism office on Tonga’s Ha’apai island group says two waves struck the group’s main island Lifuka, which displaced several families.

The office’s head, Nonu Pohiva, says the waves damaged a few houses on Lifuka’s low lying areas.

"There’re a few families affected on Ha’apai. There were about two waves coming on shore and there were a few families who were staying very close to the beach whose houses were damaged, but luckily there were no casualties."

Nonu Pohiva says the families are mainly being looked after by relatives.

New Caledonia is providing some relief assistance to Tonga. Our correspondent there, Claudine Wery, says a French military vessel that happened to be in the area has been diverted to Tonga to help.

"The boat was on its way between Noumea and French Polynesia, so they decided to make a stop in Tonga to bring some relief and to make a trip between the different islands in Tonga."

The 8-point zero quake occurred at the north end of a large active tectonic plate boundary, close to the 10 kilometre-deep Tonga-Kermadec Trench.

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