HONG KONG — Tonga began cleaning up on Tuesday from the most powerful storm to hit the South Pacific island nation in at least 60 years, which flattened its Parliament building, damaged houses and left thousands without power.
Tropical Cyclone Gita was measured as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of up to 145 miles per hour, when it crossed south of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, late Monday.
The storm knocked down the kingdom’s century-old Parliament building and tore off roofs in the capital city of Nuku’alofa.
“It was a terrifying night,” Graham Kenna, an adviser to Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’re on the third floor of one of the safest buildings in Nuku’alofa and the building was shaking and getting pounded by debris from missing roofs.”
One man died of a heart attack while being rushed to a hospital, and the storm may have contributed to his death, a police spokeswoman, Sia Adams told Radio New Zealand. More than 30 people on Tongatapu were injured, three of them seriously, she said.
The storm was the most powerful cyclone to pass so close to Tonga’s main island in at least 60 years, Britain’s Met Office said.
The government of New Zealand announced that it was sending a C-130 military aircraft with rescue supplies. About 5,700 people had sought shelter in evacuation centers, Winston Peters, New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister, said in a statement.