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Caritas communities prepare as cyclone approaches Tonga

CARITAS AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND

MEDIA RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

10 January 2014

Caritas communities prepare to respond as Tropical Cyclone Ian approaches Tonga

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is preparing to support Caritas Tonga’s response to Tropical Cyclone Ian, which is due to hit the islands of Ha’apai and Va’vau later today.

Mark Mitchell, humanitarian programmes coordinator for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, says Caritas Tonga has trained relief committees in Ha`apai and Va`vau. These committees have identified church buildings that could be used as evacuation centres and are making last minute preparations for the storms.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is in regular communication with our counterparts in Tonga and has committed funds to respond should the need arise. “Caritas Tonga is a key response organization in Tonga, and has played a vital role in coordinating relief and rehabilitation projects, such as the construction of cyclone-strength housing for vulnerable families,’ says Mark Mitchell.

The Director of Caritas Tonga, Sr Senolita Vakata, is meeting regularly with the National Emergency Management Organisation and Red Cross officials to plan the potential response.

Tropical Cyclone Ian is the first cyclone of the annual cyclone season, which runs from November to March. Mark Mitchell says the cyclone has been slowly building up strength over the last few days but it has proven to be very difficult to predict and there is still some uncertainty about what it may do.

Meteorologists have now classified the storm as a Category 4. Wind speeds are expected to reach between 165 km/h and 230 km/h. The slow moving cyclone is travelling in an easterly direction and will affect the islands of Ha’apai and Va’vau late Friday night and into the weekend before turning further south.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has worked closely with Caritas Tonga for more than a decade in emergency response and long-term development programmes. In December Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Caritas Tonga initiated an emergency water management programme in Ha`apai to support 2400 people access drinking water in five villages acutely affected by a four-month drought.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

ENDS.

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