Nervous 1 NEWS' Barbara Dreaver tells of 'screaming' noise in Nuku'alofa- 'I've never experienced anything like this'

Cyclone Gita slammed into Tonga overnight, bringing destructive winds, heavy rain and a dangerous ocean storm surge.

As it happened:

12.30am: The eye of the storm is slowly passing over Tonga and our thoughts and prayers are with those suffering through Gita tonight. Please join us for continuing LIVE coverage of this developing story from 5am later this morning. That concludes our live updates for now.

12.18am: What might the worst hit parts of Tonga look like tomorrow? This was American Samoa after Gita passed through a few days ago.

11.51pm: Gita's eye passing over Tonga...

11.28: There are reports the roof of the Met Service office in Fua,amotu is starting to blow off.

11.17pm: 1 NEWS' Barbara Dreaver is in a hotel room on the waterfront at Nuku'alofa tonight. Moments ago, in a telephone interview, she said she'd covered other cyclones before, but never anything like this.

"It's screaming like a freight train and it just keeps getting nosier and nosier," Dreaver said from her Nuku'alofa hotel room.

The highly experienced Pacific correspondent, who's covered cyclones across the region, said she was genuinely feeling nervous, with her second floor hotel room flooding from rain.

She said the biggest danger for her were the palm trees or sheet metal flying through the window, and she was, at this stage, staying out of her bed.

"Compared to storms at home (in New Zealand), this just doesn't compare. It's like someone screaming out of control, the palm trees are bent over sideways, there's a lot of variables in play. Your completely at its mercy."

As she spoke, at around 11.15pm NZT, Dreaver told of hearing big bangs and things flying past the window.

"I really fear for anyone not in a concrete structure," she said.

The eye of the storm is expected to strike the main island at around midnight tonight.

10.52pm: More from Virginie Sini in Pahu, Tongatapu: "So... I feel rather safe at home but I’m about to get flooded. I could go upstairs to my landlords but that’d mean risking the open (what keeps me safe out my door is the stairs to their level) & I’m not 100% sure the roof is gonna make it throu the night."

10.47pm: Virginie Sini is live-tweeting Gita from Pahu, Tongatapu. She filmed this video a short time ago...

10.35pm: 1 NEWS' Barbara Dreaver is in Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa tonight, hunkered down with senior cameraman Raymond Moore, alongside locals, as Gita hits.

She filed this report earlier tonight.

10.26pm: This was a familiar scene in Tonga earlier this evening as locals gathered together and hunkered down, in good spirits for what was to come.

10.22pm: This from Jason Nicholls, a Senior Meteorologist & International forecasting manager @ AccuWeather.

10.17pm: Inside one Tongan home tonight..

10.10pm: Virginie Sini is live-tweeting Gita from Pahu, Tongatapu. This post, a few minutes ago..

10.06pm: This is what it looked like inside the four star Tanoa Dateline Hotel in Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa, as Cyclone Gita started to hit earlier this evening.

9.58pm: Dr Viliami Uasike Latu from his home in Nuku'alofa speaks to the NZ Herald.

9.51pm: Current wind speeds hitting Tonga...

9.48pm:  Venaisi Tuilagi writes on the 1 NEWS Facebook page: "I'm here in Houma...i just can't describe the wind nd rain here."

9.44pm: Tooloo Charlize writes on the 1 NEWS Facebook page from Tonga: "Right now the wind is getting pretty bad. A Mango tree has fallen into electric Lines. Poorly build houses lost roofs. It's getting dark now.

"We are in the dark now. Power outages all over Tongatapu reported, I live at Eastern Tongatapu."

Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika today signed a state of emergency declaration due to "the destructive force winds and sea rises caused by Tropical Cyclone Gita".

Cyclone Gita is currently a Category 4 storm and is set to hit Tonga at 9pm tonight.

The cyclone is predicted to reach Category 5 status when the eye passes over at midnight. Source: 1 NEWS

9.30pm: Tonga Police have confirmed power is out for all of the main island of Tongatapu. They've told residents it's very important they stay indoors and safe with their families and friends. 

9:23pm: The cyclone is set to peak over the next several hours.

9.15pm: New Zealand is on standby to deliver aid to Tonga.

"My latest advice is that we haven't been asked for direct assistance from Samoa as a result of the damage they've received," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters.

"But we are on standby, ready and waiting to discuss with them any needs they might have. The same of course goes for Tonga, we're waiting to see the impact there and staying in very close contact," she said.

8:52pm: Looks like internet connections are starting to get patchy as well. 

The TVNZ weatherman has the latest on the storm set to hit the Pacific nation. Source: 1 NEWS

8:43pm: Check out TVNZ weather presenter Dan Corbett's forecast on Cyclone Gita and where it's headed next.

8:35pm: Looking to be a long dark night for many in Tonga.

8:22pm: 1 NEWS' Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver is worried that many homes won't survive the storm.

Read the story here: Tonga bracing for direct hit from monster Cyclone Gita. 

8:10pm: Power outages are already being reported to the 1 NEWS Facebook page from Tongan residents, with one comment reading:

"We are in the dark now, power outages all over Tongatapu reported, I live in Eastern Tongatapu."

8:03pm: Some footage from Tonga as Cyclone Gita moves onshore.

7.45pm: As the potentially devastating Cyclone Gita approaches Tonga, one family has performed a beautiful show of unity in the form of a harmonious song.

Footage of the family hunkered down in Tonga singing together as they await the storm was posted to the MUST Be Tongan Facebook page tonight where it's quickly racking up the views.

"Our people & nation are Cyclone Proof. This family video brings me to tears seeing how strong our people are in their faith despite the circumstances couldn't help but share this video. Praise & Worship is the shield from the storm," the video is captioned.

The video has already received a large number of comments, mainly people wishing those in the video well and praising their singing skills.

"I love you. May the Lord be with you and all of Tonga! Praying heavy for you guys," one comment reads. 

7:30pm: Reporting live from the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa, Dreaver says the first effects of the storm are now being felt.

"It's really starting to close in here now and we are just hours away from the full fury of Cyclone Gita, which is set to be the worst storm in Tonga's recorded history," she said.

By midnight the centre of Cyclone Gita is expected to hit the capital Nuku'alofa as a Category 5 storm.

Ofa Fa'anunu from the Tonga Meteorological service says Gita will be the strongest cyclone on record to hit the Kingdom. He is warning the public to go to evacuation centres as soon as possible.

Charities pledge $700m to fight deforestation worldwide, by giving more power to indigenous groups

A coalition of charitable groups and the government of Norway pledged today to spend well over half a billion dollars over the next four years to prevent deforestation internationally and recognise indigenous peoples' rights to manage forests.

The charitable groups pledged NZ$704 million to help indigenous groups gain rights to the forests where they live and to help them protect their land. The government of Norway pledged another NZ$50 million to help prevent deforestation in Indonesia and Brazil.

The coalition of more than 15 organisations and Norway made the announcement ahead of an international climate change summit in San Francisco. It includes the Ford and the Rockefeller foundations.

"Evidence shows indigenous communities are the most effective stewards of the land they inhabit and in doing so, they are ensuring that the greenhouse gas levels do not do irreversible damage to people and the planet," said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.

The funds will support those working to protect, restore and expand forests, help communities make land use more sustainable and empower indigenous people by teaching them about their rights.

National, however, is accusing Shane Jones of flinging money around. Source: 1 NEWS

The endeavour is separate from a New Zealand programme in which the Government has allocated nearly $500 million to the goal of planting 1 billion trees. About $240 million of that was announced last month, when Forestry Minister Shane Jones explained that iwi, private land owners and non-government organisations will be able to apply for the money to cover planting costs.

Mr Jones estimated that the $240 million injection will result in 60 million new trees and the creation of 1000 jobs over the next three years.

In San Francisco today, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that to prevent deforestation, the rights of indigenous people need to be secured and governments need to protect those fighting for land and the environment.

About half of the forests in the world are managed by indigenous people but only 15 per cent of those lands are legally recognized as belonging to them, she said, adding that more than 200 land and environmental activists, many of them indigenous, were killed last year.

"If our rights as indigenous peoples are recognized, we can continue to protect these lands for generations to come," she said.

Scientists say forests already remove 30 per cent of carbon emissions added to the atmosphere each year but rampant deforestation driven by a growing demand for animal protein, soy and wood products is undermining trees and the soil's capacity to store carbon.

They say the time to achieve the most ambitious goal - limiting a rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 - has almost passed and that preserving and expanding forests is critical to fighting climate change.

The party wants to move and shake things up when it comes to climate change. Source: 1 NEWS

Erazo Yaiguaje, an indigenous Siona man from South America, travelled from the Colombian Amazon to San Francisco to share his tribe's plight in getting the government to recognize their ancestral land and to publicize his people's fight against cattle ranchers and efforts to clear land mines left behind by a rebel group.

The ranchers, he said, started arriving in the Putumayo areas once occupied by rebels with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who in 2016 laid down their guns after they and the Colombian government reached a peace deal.

Mr Yaiguaje said his tribe lives in 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares) but that the government has refused to recognize their land encompasses 128,000 acres (51,800 hectares).

"The pledge recognises the importance of indigenous peoples and how from the forest and the jungle, we're helping the world," Mr Yaiguaje said.

But he said he hopes the money gets to those it intends to help.

"These funds are usually given to the government and our communities see very little of it," he added.

They’re frustrated with what they say is a lack of Government action.
Source: 1 NEWS

Conservative Sydney radio host Alan Jones and his team ordered to pay over $4 million in defamation case

Alan Jones and his team have been ordered to pay a record $3.7 million (NZ$4 million) in compensation for defaming a Queensland family by claiming they were responsible for 12 deaths in the 2011 Lockyer Valley floods.

Sydney radio broadcaster Jones, Harbour Radio and 4BC were sued by the prominent Wagner family, who claim they were blamed for the deaths in Grantham when one of the walls of the quarry they owned collapsed.

Brisbane Supreme Court Justice Peter Flanagan dismissed the complaint against journalist Nick Cater in handing down the record Australian defamation payout today.

Brothers John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner had sought $1.2 million each from the four defendants.

In a summary of his judgment, Justice Flanagan said the defamatory comments were "extremely serious and of the gravest kind".

He said Jones, Harbour Radio and 4BC had failed to establish any defence to any of the defamatory matters published.

He noted the effect the comments had had on the Wagners.

"Prior to the publication of the defamatory broadcasts, each plaintiff enjoyed an excellent reputation for honesty and integrity, both in business and community circles," he wrote.

"The publication of the defamatory broadcasts was very extensive.

"The defamatory broadcasts have caused each of the plaintiffs to suffer profound personal hurt and harm to their reputations, which includes their business reputations."

Denis Wagner said he does not expect an apology from Jones.

"Mr Jones and his co-defendants relentlessly misled their listeners and the people who had trusted them to be honest and truthful," he said outside court.

"We decided to take a stand against this abhorrent, vicious, deceitful, spiteful behaviour.

"Justice Flanagan has delivered a judgment today which has clearly indicated that people, regardless of how much influence they may consider they have, will be held accountable for their words and actions."

While giving evidence, veteran journalist Cater was accused of omitting evidence possibly contradicting his "narrative" about the Wagner family's blame for the deaths.

But Justice Flanagan ruled he did not seek to conduce Jones to defame the family.

The payout smashes the previous Australian record for defamation, with $2.62 million awarded to Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney last year after police defamed him by naming him as the "prime" and "only" suspect in the murder of his wife, Corryn.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 28:  Barbarians coach Alan Jones watches on during the warm-up before the match between the Australian Wallabies and the Barbarians at Allianz Stadium on October 28, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Conservative Sydney radio host Alan Jones. Source: Getty


Girl, 9, punished with detention for refusing to stand during Australia's national anthem at Brisbane school

The father of a Queensland schoolgirl threatened with suspension for refusing to stand for the national anthem says he is proud of her for standing up for what she believes in.

Kenmore South State School grade four student Harper Nielsen, aged nine, was given detention for not standing when Advance Australia Fair was played in assembly.

She said she believes the lyrics "we are young" marginalises Indigenous people.

"The reason why I don't sing it or stand is because Advance Australia Fair means advance White Australia," she told The Courier-Mail.

"When it says we are young it completely ignores the fact that indigenous culture was here for over 50,000 years before colonisation."
Her father Mark said he supported Harper.

"She's shown incredible bravery in wanting to stick to what she believes in and to make a stance for what she believes is right", he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"We couldn't be more proud of her for wanting to do this."

Australia flag

Explosives removed from car at Melbourne auction

Explosives have been removed from a Holden ute which was to go under the hammer at a Melbourne car auction.

Victoria Police's bomb squad went to the premises on Gordon Luck Avenue in Altona North about 10.45am on Tuesday after an employee found what appeared to be two sticks of explosives in a Holden ute being prepared for sale.

The bomb squad removed the explosives and police deemed the area safe.

Australian police officers.
Australian police officers. Source: 1 NEWS