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Post-Cyclone Rapid Assessment Assists Tongan Emergency Authorities

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12 March 2014, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji – A rapid post-disaster assessment recently conducted by specialists from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) will help Tongan emergency managers better understand the impacts of Cyclone Ian and prepare for future storms.

In early January, Cyclone Ian devastated parts of Tonga, particularly in the Ha’apai island group. The category-five storm killed one person, injured 14 others, displaced more than 4,000 people, and destroyed food crops and infrastructure.

In the wake of this storm, Tongan authorities requested assistance from SPC’s Geoscience Division (GSD) to assess damages on island of Lifuka in the Ha’apai Group.

‘They wanted us to provide technical data on the extent of inundation and erosion in coastal zones as well as water supplies and groundwater contamination in Lifuka,’ SPC Senior Technical Assistant and Oceanographer Zulfikar Begg explains. ‘They also asked us to train their geology staff so that they could do the same rapid assessments in the outer islands.’

Having previously completed extensive baseline surveys of Lifuka’s coasts and water resources in 2011 as part of the Pacific Adaptation Strategy Assistance Programme (PASAP), the SPC team arrived in Lifuka on 28 January ready to hit the ground running.

What did they find? According to Begg, ‘There was a lot of inundation – up to 94 meters measuring from the base of the beach. Because of that inundation impact, now at spring tides and high tides, the water moves further inland than it used to. At high tide, the water moves up to the road or sometimes into the compound of the government buildings.’

Lifuka has faced serious coastal inundation challenges since the island shifted following an earthquake in 2006. Much of the island’s key infrastructure, including the hospital and government buildings, is now very vulnerable to flooding. The seawalls, sandbags and structures built to protect the coast in the last few years were scattered by Cyclone Ian, reports Begg.

Data collected by the SPC team will be used to generate an animated wave model, allowing emergency managers to visualise how the waves impacted the coast during the storm. This will help authorities better anticipate future cyclone events.

In addition, says Begg, ‘The Tongan government will use our data to decide whether to build houses in the same area with improved building codes or to move them elsewhere.’

For more information, contact Molly Powers-Tora (tel: +679 338 1377; email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) or visit the SPC website: www.spc.int.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2015 13:28  


31st August 2012 - A study of tropical cyclones and associated wave action is providing information that can be used to assess the resilience of Mangaia, the most southern of the Cook Islands, to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.

Mr Jens Kruger of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) said that with coastal communities, private property, family homes and public infrastructure, such as the harbour, already exposed to extreme weather events, the recent study will help to support a risk-based approach to climate change adaptation.

Mr Kruger is the Physical Oceanographer with SPC’s Oceans and Islands Programme in the Applied Geoscience and Technology (SOPAC) Division.

He explained that data gathered during the study can be used to develop models of different scenarios to assess how changes in the climate and sea level would affect the frequency, magnitude and extent of coastal inundation on the island of Mangaia.

The data were collected by a team from SPC/SOPAC, the Cook Island's Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning, and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The research is part of the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change project, funded by the Global Environment Facility through UNDP Samoa and SPREP (Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme). The project involves 14 Pacific Island countries including Cook Islands.

‘A key outcome of the study has been the Cook Islands Coastal Calculator, an engineering spreadsheet that can be used to provide information on waves and water levels at the shoreline, wave run-up and the resulting inundation,’ said Mr Kruger.