Tonga parliament building flattened by Cyclone Gita

image copyrightAFP
image captionTonga's Parliament House is more than 100 years old

The parliament building in the Pacific country of Tonga has been destroyed by the worst storm to hit the country in more than 60 years.

Cyclone Gita, a category four storm, battered the island overnight and caused widespread damage.

Electricity lines were downed and roofs were torn off houses by the high winds.

The government declared a state of emergency before the storm hit, and set up evacuation centres where thousands of people stayed overnight.

"I could see the people across the road, their roof was flapping around the house, it was trying to disintegrate. I think a lot of people were very desperate last night."

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The UK Met Office said the storm - which brought winds of more than 200km/h (124mph) - was the strongest to hit the main islands of Tonga since modern records began.

Tonga is made up of more than 170 islands, and is located in the Pacific Ocean east of Fiji and north of New Zealand.

Tonga's parliament building is more than 100 years old. It is not yet clear where MPs will sit while it is being repaired.

image copyrightJohn Pulu/AFP
image captionThe storm tore the roofs off buildings and uprooted trees

One MP, Lord Fusitu'a, told ABC News that the damage was "a great disappointment".

"Successive legislatures over the years have suggested building a new parliament house and I guess that'll be a necessity now," he said.

Tongan cross-country skiier Pita Taufatofua, who is known as the bare-chested flag bearer for the Tongan Olympic team, posted about the cyclone on his social media.

image copyrightAFP/getty
image captionThe 34-year-old athlete gained international notoriety at the 2016 and 2018 opening ceremonies

"Tonga has been hit very hard by Cyclone Gita resulting in a lot of damage. Still yet to hear word on the safety of family and friends along with the full scale of destruction.

"Things like this really put life and what's important in life into perspective. I wish I could be there right now to help #prayersForTonga," the post said.

Gita is expected to intensify into a category five storm - the highest level - on Tuesday as it moves towards Fiji.

But experts predict it will miss the country's most densely populated areas.

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