Habitat for Humanity, a not-for profit organisation focused on shelter, is preparing a response to Tropical Cyclone Gita, which struck Tonga as a Category 4 storm overnight after passing through Samoa.
Habitat for Humanity NZ CEO Claire Szabó said the low lying topography of Tonga's main island Tongatapu made it particularly vulnerable to storm surge and flooding during a storm, which would only have made the night more terrifying for its 71,000 residents.
“Thousands of people took shelter in evacuation centres overnight and will today be surveying the damage to their homes. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the disaster" Ms Szabó said.
"It takes some weeks for the full picture of the damage to emerge. It appears at this stage that the devastation to people's homes may have been catastrophic" Szabó said.
"We are in contact with our partner agencies in Tonga and Samoa, and are closely monitoring the situation as we begin to assess the damage, and to act.”
Ms Szabó said Habitat was planning to help people affected by Cyclone Gita first with shelter kits to assist them to meet immediate shelter needs. These kits include tarpaulins, rope, tools, and other critically needed items for temporary shelter or urgent repairs. After the immediate response phase, Habitat for Humanity will begin supporting reconstruction of homes.
“There is a critical and urgent need to help provide shelter for families in Tonga and Samoa” she said. “We’re urging people to help us act swiftly, and to show their support for our Pacific whānau by making a donation through our website” said Ms Szabó.
Ms Szabo said Habitat has been active in the Pacific for many years, building hundreds of homes in both Samoa and Fiji. In 2016, none of the homes built by Habitat for Humanity in Fiji sustained damage during Category 5 Cyclone Winston. The housing charity went on to build 100 more cyclone-resistant homes that year with families in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
"The immediate provision of shelter is a priority, and our disaster response specialists are being deployed" Ms Szabó said. Habitat for Humanity is asking for the support of the public to start providing emergency shelter.
"When the time comes, we will be there to help families repair or rebuild cyclone-resilient homes” Ms Szabó said.
People wishing to help provide shelter to families affected by the disaster can donate at habitat.org.nz/donate.