A devastating cyclone has destroyed Tonga’s century-old Parliament building after the Pacific nation was hit by winds with speeds of more than 140 miles an hour.
Cyclone Gita, the worst storm to hit Tonga in 60 years and the strongest ever recorded in the capital of Nuku’alofa, levelled houses and tore roofs off building, including that of the meteorological agency’s office.
The historic weatherboard Parliament building was flattened, throwing the government into disarray.
An MP, Lord Fusitu’a, said some locals in the strongly Christian nation suggested the destruction was an act of God and sent a message to the current government.
“There are people saying, symbolically, what is the message being sent to the country,” he told ABC Radio.
“Is the current legislature doing its job? Is that why the building was flattened?”
Expressing sadness at the loss of the historic building, he added: “Successive legislatures over the years have suggested building a new Parliament House, and I guess that’ll be a necessity now.”
The cyclone has left tens of thousands of people without power as Tongatapu, the main island, experienced a blackout. Thirty-three people were taken to hospital and three suffered serious injuries.
“It was a particularly bad night,” Graham Kenna, from Tonga’s 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. A lot of the landmark buildings are extremely badly damaged or even destroyed, the landmark tree… near the palace, has been destroyed… It’s quite a bad situation.”
The cyclone, a category four, was not as bad as feared and did not reach category five.
But it caused heavy damage in the nation of 176 islands. Only 40 islands are inhabited but the nation’s buildings are relatively poorly prepared for cyclones.
“The wind was terrifying, it was tearing overhead and we could hear roofs being lifted,” Mary Fonua, from the online news website Matangi Tonga, told Radio New Zealand. “Amazingly, emergency services were still going out.”
The cyclone is heading to Fiji but is expected to miss the capital, Suva. Authorities have warned about 2,500 people there are at risk.