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Tonga declares state of emergency as cyclone looms

12 February 2018

Up to 70% of the country's population is at risk with the severe tropical cyclone expected to pass near the populated main islands of Tongatapu and 'Eua.

"Once the urgent needs are assessed, we are expecting to help co-ordinate the supply of clean water and sanitation for those affected by the disaster".

Tonga Police said the Tonga national emergency committee has recommended the acting Prime Minister should declare a state of emergency.

Tropical Cyclone Gita is expected to head west for several days, hitting Tonga overnight and strengthening to a category 5 storm.

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"People are going battening down the hatches and this kind of preparedness works, it saves lives".

MetService tropical cyclone forecaster Micky Malivuk said Gita had the potential to grow to a category 5 cyclone, but that was not expected to happen until later Wednesday into Thursday, when it would be on its way out from southern Fiji and on its towards the south of New Caledonia. Many models are predicting it would hit New Zealand, but not until the middle of next week.

Meanwhile a Coast Guard Hercules is flying from Hawaii to conduct an aerial assessment of the storm on American Samoa.

"That's a very serious situation, the capital is there, there's over 75,000 people", he said.

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Local officials in Tonga have urged residents to move away from low-lying locations and to make preparations on their properties, Radio New Zealand reported. About 300 people had evacuated but were now returning to their homes, Butler said.

Gita will bring damaging winds, flooding rain and storm surge inundation to Tonga.

Cyclones are common in the Pacific at this time of year, with Category Five systems proving highly destructive when they make landfall.

A storm barreling toward the Pacific island nation of Tonga could be the most powerful to ever hit the country.

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Tonga declares state of emergency as cyclone looms