'We tried to tell ourselves we were fine but we were not' - anxious account of Cyclone Gita's onslaught in Tonga

A first-hand account of the havoc Cyclone Gita wrought on Tonga overnight has been described to 1 NEWS by a French ex-pat anxiously sheltering in her Nuku'alofa home.

Virginie Dourlet spent a nerve-wracking night in the Tongan capital, as the bottom floor of her home was flooded and she waited with her landlord and his four children on the second floor.

1 NEWS reporter shows you how Tongans are readying for category 5 storm. Source: 1 NEWS

Their fear was that their roof would be stripped off by the storm.

"Very frightening, we tried to tell ourselves we were fine but we were not, you know," Ms Dourlet said.

"I guess we were mostly concerned about the roof but actually we were concerned for all the wrong reasons."

Ms Dourlet said the worst of the extreme weather conditions occurred for a two hour period from midnight to 2am.

Standing on her veranda in the pre-dawn Nuku'alofa hours this morning (around 5.45am NZDT), Ms Dourlet said the conditions are much improved.

"It's still windy but much, much less. It's much better (than last night), I'm outside and you can hear me," she said.

Her neighbourhood, however, she said had sustained significant damage.

"It's raining again though it had stopped earlier, and although it's still dark I can see there's a fair bit of destruction on my street," Ms Dourlet said.

"From what I can tell right now and from what I have heard so far, it looks like all the houses directly around me are still standing, there are three downed polls leaning very awkwardly but still standing, not fallen.

"There's water absolutely everywhere. One end of the street is blocked by two fallen trees.

"A corrugated iron fence has been pushed from its original place to the the street."

 Ms Dourlet has lived in Tonga for the past five years, and says this was "definitely" the worst weather conditions she has experience on the Pacific island nation - including Cyclone Winston in 2016.

The view of Virginie Dourlet's flooded backyard in Nuku'alofa after Cyclone Gita hit overnight. Source: Supplied



Cyclone Gita hurtles through Tonga, leaving path of destruction

Cyclone Gita is has now begun to move away from Tonga.

Gita was the strongest cyclone to come this close to the main islands of Tonga in the last recorded 60 years.

Next will be the clean-up and there are already serious concerns around water contamination because of the amount of debris. 

The weather system is packing winds of more than 200km/h. Source: 1 NEWS

Virginie Sini, who live tweeted the storm, wrote at 4.45am (local time): Woke up from a nap and had a look. No more rain (at the moment) and much less wind. It's too dark for image but my street is a swimming pool, blocked at least to the left by broken trees & what used to be a corrugated iron fence. My mosquito screen was ripped off."

Read here how Gita brought destructive winds, heavy rain and a dangerous ocean storm surge to Tonga. 

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

ONN 1 News at 6 promo image
For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

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.