Tropical Cyclone Gita leaves trail of destruction from American Samoa to Tonga

By Eric Leister, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
February 14, 2018, 12:26:56 PM EST

Powerful Cyclone Gita caused widespread damage to parts of Samoa and American Samoa last week before targeting Tonga Monday night into Tuesday.

An emergency declaration was made by the governor of American Samoa which was approved by President Donald Trump allowing aid to be distributed to the island territory.

Flooding and power outages were widespread across Tutuila, including the capital of Pago Pago where rainfall in excess of 150 mm (6 inches) was reported.

In Samoa, there were no immediate reports of injury or death from the cyclone, according to Radio New Zealand.

More than 350 mm (14 inches) of rain fell in the capital city of Apia from Friday into Saturday. Widespread flooding was reported along with damage to buildings from strong winds.

Gita1 2/13

In this Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 photo, first responders with a backhoe work amid strong winds and heavy rain from Tropical Storm Gita to clear part of the main road at Fagaalu village in American Samoa. (AP Photo/Fili Sagapolutele)

Niue was next in the path of Gita; however, the island was largely spared as Gita passed east and south of the island nation Sunday into Monday.

Rainfall of 25-50 mm (1-2 inches) was reported along with wind gusts of tropical storm force.

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Satellite snapshot of Tropical Cyclone Gita passing just south and west of Tonga Monday night, local time.

Gita continued to strengthen as it turned westward and approached Tonga Monday night into Tuesday.

The center of the storm passed just south of Tonga unleashing damaging winds, flooding rain and inundating storm surge on Tongatapu and ʻEua.

At its closest approach to Tonga, Gita was equal to a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic and east Pacific oceans with sustained winds of 232 km/h (144 mph).

Tonga's Parliament House was completely destroyed in the storm's fury, according to the Associated Press.

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This image made from a video, shows parliament house damaged by Cyclone Gita in Nuku’alofa, Tonga Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (TVNZ via AP)

The Tonga Met office was also damaged, forcing forecasters to take shelter and shift warning responsibilities to the Fiji Met Service.

Widespread damage was reported in the capital of Nuku’alofa including complete destruction of the Parliament House and several churches, according to the Associated Press.

There have been numerous reports of roofs being torn off and debris damaging cars, homes and office buildings.

Tonga Weather Center
South Pacific Tropical Cyclone Center
Gita to blast New Zealand with damaging winds, flooding rain

Conditions improved across Tonga on Tuesday as Gita tracked westward.

The cyclone brought a glancing blow to Fiji late Tuesday into Tuesday night with gusty winds and brief downpours; however, the area was largely spared compared to Tonga.

Ono-i-Lau and Vatoa, the islands in between Fiji's main islands and Tonga, were also blasted by strong winds, heavy rain and coastal flooding on Tuesday.

Crops were flattened and large trees were blown down, according to Radio New Zealand. No one sustained serious injuries.

A general westward track the next several days will keep the storm from having any significant impacts to additional land masses; however, some gusty showers may graze southern New Caledonia on Friday, local time.

Weakening and a transition into non-tropical storm are expected early next week as Gita turns southward and approaches New Zealand.

Despite the weakening, residents across northern New Zealand should be prepared for damaging winds and flooding rainfall.

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