Ian underwent explosive and unexpected strengthening as it was entering Tonga’s northern waters, striking the archipelago with wind gusts of nearly 180 mph as a Category-4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
“I’ve never seen anything so fierce and so scary in my life,” said Matelita Blake-Hour of the Tonga National Youth Congress. “In some areas I can see the path the cyclone cut through the trees, it’s complete destruction ... every house has been destroyed and every family affected.”
She said the strongest cyclone in decades inflicted massive destruction to farms, roads and buildings on not only the outer islands, but around the capital of Ha’apai as well.
“Houses, trees, even plants are destroyed. There’s no fruit, no crops, or anything,” Blake-Hour said in a statement through the Oxfam website.
New Zealand and other countries were airlifting emergency relief supplies into the disaster zone.
Tonga is made up of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited by more than 100,000 people. Its economy relies on fish export, tourism and remittances from Tongan expatriates working overseas.
About 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.
Cyclone Ian Track
Satellite Loop Data: CIMSS