NZ Tongan community braced for Cyclone Gita relief efforts

Local Tongans have endured a sleepless night, fearing for the safety of family back home, as Cyclone Gita hit the Pacific nation.

As the new day dawns, the extent of the damage is only just becoming apparent and reports to New Zealand are still sketchy.

An emotional Melino Mak, chairman of the Auckland-based Tongan Advisory Council, appeared on The AM Show, red-eyed after a long night monitoring the situation.

"The last communication I had with a village near the airport, about quarter-to-12," he told host Duncan Garner.

"The messages say the eye of the storm had just arrived in Tonga. I stayed up until 2-2.30am, just to see if there were any messages from the village I come from on the eastern side.

"I just try to imagine it, because there are a lot of people there... the housing, in this weather, will be damaged."

Mr Mak, who also chairs the Pacific Advisory Group for NZ Red Cross, said NZ-based Tongans were bracing for their biggest relief effort ever over the next few weeks.

"At this stage, we encourage people, if they want to donate through the Red Cross, that's the best way," he said.

"For our local community, we're looking short-term relief like food items and dry goods. That's what the Tongans and Samoans always do."

Mr Mak said many Tongans had ignored the warnings as Gita tore a path across the Pacific towards them.

"A lot of Tongans just think it's not going to be a major one.

"I think this cyclone will give them a real wake-up for the future - more of this will come." 

Hakula Tonga Aotearoa sports director Hengi Fusitu'a was another making desperate phone calls through the night.

"Our family is OK, but the neighbours are not as lucky," he said. "I think they are all helping each other.

"We managed couple of hours' sleep and knowing that the whole thing was over gave us some peace of mind."

The National Emergency Management Office in Tonga was still assessing damage, but was warning residents to stay away from the cities, where the damage was particularly severe.

Other NZ-based Tongans reached out to their families via social media.

"My lil sister and cousin are at our home in Tonga," Victoria Vao wrote on Facebook.

"Cyclone Gita took out our kitchen, now has taken the carport and may be taking the rest of the house soon.

"The home my father built, raised in and stood for about 40yrs, now is no longer important."

This morning, Ms Vao heard the news that her family was safe and sound - her sister and cousin in the family home on the main island of Tongatapu, her brother and his family on the smaller island of Ha'apai.

"Everyone is alive and well," she told Newshub. "So much damage, but they are safe.

"Now they're just gearing up for a major clean-up."