Monster storm gathers strength from Tonga

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Tropical cyclone Harold returned to a Category 5 storm on Thursday, wiping Tonga from the side after leaving a trail of destruction across the South Pacific.

The island kingdom declared a state of emergency late Wednesday, when the storm subsided and warned of destructive winds and massive sea tides.

The police announced early Thursday that power was cut in parts of the country and the howling winds picked up in heavy rain after Harold surprised the meteorologists with their sudden reinforcement.





© PHILIPPE CARILLO
The damage caused by Harold near Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, is shown on April 7. The storm is now moving towards Fiji

The cyclone killed 27 people in the Solomon Islands at the end of last week before heading southeast to hit Vanuatu Category 5 directly and wipe out entire cities in the northern provinces.

There have been no reports of deaths in Vanuatu. Rescue workers said many residents in the most affected areas were able to seek shelter.

Harold weakened slightly to a still impressive category 4 when it started in Fiji on Wednesday, but hopes that the storm would dissipate were dashed when it won back towards Tonga.

“It was difficult to predict,” meteorologist Bill Singh from New Zealand’s Metservice told AFP.

“We knew which route it would take, but initially everyone thought it would only be Cat 3 or 4, but when it went over warm, open water it deepened.”

The storm is expected to blow into the open ocean from Tonga later Thursday, but WeatherWatch.co.nz chief forecaster Philip Duncan said there is no certainty.

Related Slideshow: Extreme Weather Around the World in 2020 (provided by Photo Services)

“It is almost outrageous to see a cyclone move south of the equator, weaken and then suddenly return to Cat 5 that far south,” he said.

The Red Cross said that damage investigations were still ongoing in Fiji and Vanuatu, where communication to remote islands was interrupted for days.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has made disaster relief difficult, and Vanuatu is reluctant to open its international borders because it wants to remain one of the few countries without confirmed cases of the virus.

Fiji has 15 cases, and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the virus and cyclone meant that “our economy and our people were hit twice to start the year.”

“This storm must not interfere with our efforts to contain the corona virus, so that we do not risk damage that is far more painful than the effects of a cyclone,” he said.

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