An RNZAF Hercules is flying to Tonga this afternoon carrying emergency relief supplies to Tonga.
Possibly the strongest storm ever recorded in the Pacific Island kingdom, Cyclone Gita passed Tonga overnight causing widespread destruction, flooding and power outages.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters has told Parliament the plane is being deployed after a verbal request from the Tongan government to help the 5700 people seeking shelter in evacuation centres. He says it's expected these numbers will increase substantially tonight.
The Hercules is carrying family hygiene kits, shelter kits, jerry cans, and tarpaulins.
The plane is also carrying a New Zealand Government team to support the New Zealand High Commission to assess emergency needs and respond to requests from the Government of Tonga.
Mr Peters says the full extent of damage caused by Cyclone Gita is still being assessed but there is an immediate need for assistance on the ground.
Initial assessments indicate there has been extensive damage to homes in Nuku’alofa and some damage to commercial buildings, he says.
Mr Peters told the House he has also approved an initial package of $750,000 to support relief efforts in Tonga.
"I'll help the government of Tonga to meet immediate needs such as emergency shelter, water and sanitation," he said.
At this stage Fuaʻamotu International Airport runway in Tongatapu is open to emergency supply aircraft only.
Mr Peters says a visual inspection of the international airport has shown the runway to be intact with minimal damage.
New Zealand is coordinating the international relief response alongside other countries including Australia.
With respect to Samoa, Mr Peters said the Government has already approived $50,000 emergency funds for the New Zealand High Commisison in Apia to use to support Samoan efforts.
"And as we get a clearer picture of demand we'll be ready to answer and respond," he said.
"As the situation on the ground becomes clearer we'll support governments with longer term recovery and reconstruction."
Mr Peters said that following previous events New Zealand has for example helped get the power network up and running, repaired schools and other government infrastructure and ensured clean water is available.