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The cyclone killed one person and injured 14, and displaced about 2000 people in the Ha’apai island group, including 68-year-old grandmother Hulita Poutele.
Hulita lives on remote Mo’unga’one Island, two hours by boat from Ha’apai. She says she knew the cyclone was coming, but didn’t realise how bad it would be.
“It was a very, very strong wind.. The roof blew away and my son said ‘go under the house’. So I went under the house with my six grandchildren. Once we were under the house the walls fell in.”
Leaning on her walking stick, Hulita looks at the concrete slab where her house once stood and describes what it was like in the tiny crawl space under the foundations.
It was very muddy and filled with water. All I could hear was roofing iron blowing around. We didn’t talk – everyone was silent because they were very scared. I was just hoping we could survive.
Tonga Red Cross staff and volunteers were some of the first people from outside to arrive with tents, kitchen sets and hygiene kits. Then New Zealand Red Cross aid worker Kevin Duignan came to Mo’unga’one to teach locals how to use the New Zealand shelter kits and tarpaulins to patch up their buildings.
As well as providing an initial $10,000 to kick start the relief effort, New Zealand Red Cross sent 1650 tarpaulins, 300 shelter kits, 645 water containers, 400 guttering kits, and paid for the use of a satellite phone, which was the only link to the outside world for three days for the people of the Ha’apai island group.
The shelter kits helped more than 2000 people make their houses more liveable until a more permanent solution could be found, and contained building materials such as tarpaulins, ropes, saws, nails, shovels, machetes, and hammers.
Hulita’s son Anau Poutele says the shelter kits enabled him to put a roof over his family’s head again, and the tarpaulins help keep the tents cool during the heat of the day. He says he and his mother were very happy when Tonga Red Cross arrived two days after the cyclone.
“If it wasn’t for Red Cross we would be severely affected. We are very grateful to Red Cross for their help, it shows they care.
“Malo ‘aupito.” (Thank you very much).