A battered Nuku’alofa began cleaning up Tuesday after the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Tongan capital tore roofs off buildings, downed powerlines and caused extensive flooding, prompting a state of emergency in the tiny Pacific nation. Veteran disaster management officials were shocked at the fury of Severe Cyclone Gita as it unleashed 230 kmh (142 mph) winds on Tonga’s most populous island Tongatapu. Historic wooden buildings in the heart of Nuku’alofa, including parts of Tonga’s parliament, were reduced to matchsticks as the tempest hit overnight. Broken power poles and trees blocked the roads and sheets of corrugated iron stripped from homes littered the capital. “It was a particularly bad night,” Graham Kenna, from the National Emergency Office, told Radio New Zealand. “I’ve been involved in disaster response for 30-plus years and it was the worst situation I’ve been in.” Even the Tongan Meteorological Service lost its roof, forcing it to hand over the job of issuing warnings about the cyclone to its counterpart in Fiji. Storm damage closed the international airport, along with the Australian High Commission, which warned its citizens against travelling to the devastated kingdom. Yet officials said it could have been worse. The storm did not reach a top-of-the-scale Category Five as feared and injuries were relatively light, with 33 people hospitalised, three of them seriously hurt. Police said a 72-year-old man suffered a fatal heart attack and the cyclone may have contributed to his death. Howling winds cut power to Tongatapu on Monday evening and peaked in the early hours of Tuesday as more than 3,000 people sheltered in evacuation centres. The military helped clear roads at first light, allowing clean-up teams to fan out and assess the extent of the destruction. “Someone’s roof is in my front garden… some of the old landmark buildings that are 100 years old have been severely damaged by debris,” Kenna said. Published in Daily Times, February 14th 2018.