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Cyclone Rene slams into Tonga

by Staff Writers
Nuku'Alofa (AFP) Feb 15, 2010
Cyclone Rene slammed into northern Tonga early Monday after causing widespread damage in which one man in American Samoa died over the weekend.

They category four cyclone -- the second strongest on a five-point scale -- was about 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) southeast of the northern island of Vava'u at 6 am local time (1700 GMT Sunday) and about 285 kilometres northeast of the capital Nuku'alofa, the Fiji Meteorological Service said.

The cyclone was estimated to have average winds of 90 knots at its centre (167 kilometres an hour) and gusts of up to 125 knots.

Vava'u resident Semisi Fonua said there were few signs of major damage as the eye of the cyclone passed over the island Monday morning.

People took advantage to the temporary calm as the eye of the storm passed to check for damage.

"People are out walking around now, there are a lot of mangoes and breadfruit down, and many trees damaged," Fonua said.

He added he had seen only relatively minor damage to property in the main town of Neiafu after violent winds blew for two hours.

Cyclone Rene is expected to move southwest towards the Ha'apai island group and the capital Nuku'alofa on the main island of Tongatapu during the day.

On the eastern side of the international dateline, in American Samoa, a 50-year-old maintenance worker was killed Friday when he fell from the roof of a three-storey building while trying to secure the building from Cyclone Rene.

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