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Thursday 17 April 2014

Relief over low cyclone death toll

The damage to Ha'apai island group, in Tonga, following Cyclone Ian (AP/Royal New Zealand Air Force)

Tongan officials said today that 300 to 400 families had their homes severely damaged or destroyed in a powerful storm but they are relieved that the death toll has not risen beyond one.

Director of Emergencies Leveni Aho said it is "almost unbelievable" there were not more fatalities given the devastation caused by Cyclone Ian, which pummelled the South Pacific archipelago with gusts up to 178mph (287kph) on Saturday.

Worst hit was the Ha'apai island group, home to 8,000 people.

News site Matangi Tonga reported that Kalolaine Paongo, 51, was killed on the island of Lifuka after she was cut on the leg by a piece of roofing iron during the cyclone and died later in hospital.

Mr Aho said several people suffered moderate injuries but none were life- threatening.

He said the cyclone's destructive path was unusually narrow and did not create major flooding, which helped limit the damage.

He added that relief supplies have begun arriving but he remains concerned that fresh water supplies are dwindling, in part because many people rely on roof rainwater catchment systems which were destroyed in the storm.

He said one of the two main mobile phone operators restored service today, which has vastly improved communications. Residents remain without power, he said, but he hopes it will be restored to some places in the coming days.

He said there was severe damage to the control tower at Ha'apai airport but that some flights carrying relief supplies have been able to land.

New Zealand's government has pledged 50,000 New Zealand dollars (£25,165) towards relief efforts and several aid agencies have deployed to the region.

AP

Press Association

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