Samoa swept by Cyclone Gita

Images from Apia show the extent of flooding on February 10

Images from Apia show the extent of flooding on February 10

For Ono-i-Lau and Vatoa and Southern Lau - expect strong winds and winds may increase to damaging gale force from late tonight to early tomorrow and further increase to destructive hurricane force winds of upto 230 kilometres per hour.

The damage to homes and utilities in American Samoa prompted Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga to declare an emergency for the US territory, according to Radio New Zealand.

The storm is forecast to be closest to the main island of Tongatapu at around midnight. Many people remained without clean, running water.

Schools have been closed and there are raised fears about sanitation and the spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever.

The Fiji Meteorological Service predicts Gita will become a Category Five storm - the top of the scale - before reaching Tonga Monday night.

The storm is packing winds of over 160km/h and is forecast to intensify.

Gita will bring damaging winds, flooding rain and storm surge inundation to Tonga.

Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika issued a nationwide alert, saying he was "satisfied that an emergency is happening or is about to happen". The country's total population is around 106,000 people.

Downtown Apia after Tropical Cyclone Gita - then just a category 1 storm - passed over Samoa on Saturday.

The Red Cross said residents were racing to identify strong buildings to which to evacuate and clean up debris such as loose wood or metal that could turn into unsafe missiles during expected winds of up to 185 kilometres per hour (115 mph).

Red Cross worker based in Suva Hanna Butler told Morning Report locals were well aware that it was tropical cyclone season, and Tongans would be taking extra precautions.

Truckloads of troops were helping people batten down as the capital prepared for the cyclone and evacuation centres were opened across the kingdom.

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