The internet just came back after we got with a cyclone on Monday (Sunday in America). We were told that a cyclone was on its way and the weather maps looked a bit concerning but it was only suppose to be category 2 (the scale goes to 5 I think). The wind was only supposed to be about 30-40 knots. Whenever an emergency occurs such as a bad cyclone, Peace Corps will order some or all of the volunteers in the country to go to a safe house. This is called consolidation. We were told on Sunday evening that since it wasn’t going to be a bad storm, consolidating was going to be optional. I opted to stay in my house. I got woken up around 7am by Todd (our emergency coordinator in Ha’apai saying that we were consolidating because the cyclone is stronger than predicted. However since they left it late and I and the other volunteer would have had to cross the land bridge to get to the consolidation point (Todd’s house), we had a choice to stay in our villages and hang out at the Mormon Church or head to the next island over and consolidate. If I stayed I would have had to go to the Mormon Church because they are easily the soundest structures on our island since they were funded and built by the Mormons in America. I didn’t feel much like hanging out at the Mormon Church through the whole storm and since the storm hadn’t hit yet I opted to head to Pangai and consolidate with the other volunteers.
I got my neighbor and principle, Saia, to give me a lift. There were 4 of us at Todd’s house. Shortly after we got there the power and water went out. We think that they were probably turned off to minimize damage because we lost them before the storm really hit. We nailed tarps over Todd’s windows to try and keep the water out and moved most of his things away from the windows. The storm hit Ha’apai pretty hard. At one point, Todd and I had to go outside to re-nail the tarps to the house because the wind was ripping them off. You could actually feel yourself being moved by the wind. Some water got in but because the house was pretty well prepared, not too much water got in and the water that did, was quickly mopped up. Around 3pm (I think) the cyclone had passed. We took a walk around to see the damage to Pangai. Power lines were down everywhere. Two old and large buildings were completely demolished. Many of the Chinese stores had had their awnings ripped off and a few roofs were lost. One of the schools where a volunteer works at had recently built a brand new school building. The roof was ripped off most of it and the building was flooded. It was a shame because the brand new building was pretty much destroyed with wind and water damage. I had to stay in Pangai until Tuesday because we were still supposed to stay consolidated until the next morning.
Luckily, there was no damage to my house or my school back in Faleloa. There was a lot of damage on the island though. Many power lines were down and the water was out. In my village there were two houses that were practically destroyed with one having half the house completely collapsing. The resort down at the end of end of the island, Matafonua, was hit the hardest. It was hit with huge waves which washed away to of the fales (small houses) where the guest stay were completely swept away by huge waves and two other ones had substantial water damage. The power was restored to whole island today, 3 days after the cyclone. I was told to expect the power to be out for at least a week so it was a nice surprise when the power came back on today.
I have heard that the cyclone ended up being a category 4 (I’ve heard it was only a 3 too) but the winds were over 100 knots per hour. Good thing we still have 2 more months until the cyclone season is over…
One of the houses in my village which had its roof blown off
Another house in my village which had half of the house collapse
Remnants of 2 of the guest fales at Matafonua
Matafonua. The concrete platform was where a new walk in freezer use to stand
Thats where the freezer ended up. Destroyed
In the distance you can see the reef which is where waves usually break. The waves that hit Matafonua travelled across the reef and all the way to the land.
Here is a video of the waves hitting Matafonua during the cyclone
Cyclone Wilma Ha'apai tonga from Liquid image Productions on Vimeo.