Emergency to temporary shelter in Tonga following TC Gita
Sixty-two year old Lolohea Vaka lost her home to Tropical Cyclone (TC) Gita in Tonga in February, 2018. A widow with no source of income, the loss of her family home was devastating.
TC Gita was the most severe tropical cyclone to make landfall in Tonga, causing widespread destruction to homes, water supply systems, farmland and livelihoods.
For people like Lolohea, losing the family home hit hard. Through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP), the Australian Government supported a multi-donor* response to TC Gita. CARE Australia worked with local partners Live & Learn and MORDI Tonga Trust to deliver emergency aid and recovery support to households across Tongatapu and ‘Eua islands. Support included shelter kits in the immediate wake of the cyclone, followed by support to relocate or rebuild temporary homes as the communities began to recover.
Initial emergency aid distributions reach 3,500 people across more than 500 households. The recovery phase aimed to support 850 households across Tongatapu and ‘Eua islands to build transitional homes, giving them somewhere safe and secure to live while rebuilding.
Lolohea shares her experience of TC Gita.
“Before the cyclone struck ‘Eua, my son and I put up shutters on the windows, placed timber across the door, tied down rope from top to bottom, packed everything including food and water. We listened to the radio for regular updates of the weather forecast. After preparing everything, my daughter told me ‘Mum, I think it’s best if we move to the community hall because I overheard that this cyclone is getting worse. Besides, you are and elderly and we cannot afford anything if something happened to you or us’.
“As I sat down I thought that my daughter has a point. It is best we evacuate in time because this house was built in 1999 and it’s too old and we never know what is going to happen.
“Just before Gita struck this island we were all settled at the community hall enjoying ourselves talking with other families and drinking cups of tea and coffee. I was trying to keep my mind distracted and not to think about home.
“At sunrise, my son was the first one to rush out and see if our house was still ok, and when he reached home he did not return to us but as we reached there and I witnessed myself the strength of a hazard that is stronger than the roar of a lion. Depression filled my heart, but at the same time I still praise God for taking the house down. Imagine if we were still in the house? I know for sure that our lives would have been in great danger or maybe one of us is injured.
“Knowing the damage has caused a lot more than what I have in my hand but I can sense the blessing I had received from MORDI and the Red Cross.
“It is difficult being a widow. I know I have roles and responsibilities that I need to action. Since my son is more focused now on gardening and cleaning up our cassava plantation, he spends his time there. I am by myself just cleaning whatever I can here in the house. We are still living at the community hall because everything here is wet. Although there is a tarpaulin, it only covers one side of the house and the rest is open to the sky. So whenever it rains, the whole house is wet and when the sun is out everything is dry.
By December 2018, MORDI had reconstructed a temporary home for Lolohea.
“I am happy. Now I am dry. This home is much stronger than the old one”, she said.
*Funding for this activity was also received via the START Network. The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the European Union, UNICEF, Volunteer Services Abroad (New Zealand) and Rotary International.