The small island nation of Tonga’s parliament is supposed to come into session on March 1, but lawmakers are frantically scrambling to find a new home after the century-old parliament building was reduce to rubble earlier this week. Cyclone Gita roared ashore with 145-mph winds and made a direct hit on Nukuʻalofa, the island’s capital on Monday night local time.
While only two deaths have been reported, there’s been widespread destruction on Togatapu, the most populous island in the country. Nearly three-quarters of the nation’s 103,000 residents live there, including nearly 25,000 in the capital.
This is the first time on record that the equivalent of a Category 4 storm has come within 200 nautical miles of Tonga’s capital, let alone struck a direct hit. Two other Category 4 storms have struck the constellation of 169 islands that make up Tonga, though Gita will likely be the most costly storm in Tongan history because it hit a major population center according to Wunderground.
Members of parliament are going to have a find new digs to coordinate the response to the storm. A spokesperson for the speaker’s office said officials are still trying to sort out where to set up shop according to local news outlet Kaniva News.
Relief is pouring in from New Zealand and Australia, two of Tonga’s closest neighbors in the South Pacific. That includes aerial flights to surveil the damage in other parts of Togatapu where damage to residential buildings has been particularly heavy.
Gita has since delivered a glancing blow to Fiji where damage reports are still emerging. Abnormally warm waters provide the fuel that led to Gita’s intense winds. Those same warm waters will help keep Gita rolling as a powerful extratropical cyclone into next week when it’s expected to strike New Zealand, which would make it the second major storm to hit New Zealand this year. The heat in the high seas around New Zealand also contributed to the island having its hottest month ever recorded in January.
The storm comes smack in the middle of tropical cyclone season for the South Pacific, which runs from November through April. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology forecast an average of seven cyclones, the region’s name for a hurricane or typhoon, this year. There have been two so far, but they’ve already left a mark on the region.