A Bingley man has made an emergency dash back to Tonga to help his family after their house was wrecked by a category five cyclone – the worst to hit the country in more than half a century.
Richard (Lisiate) Tafa, who plays rugby union for Bradford & Bingley, has an uncle and a cousin sleeping under a mango tree in the northern island of Haa’pai, while his mum, two brothers, his grandma, aunt, two cousins and a cousin’s wife are all sheltering in the one remaining room of their house, and even that has half of its roof ripped off.
Amazingly, only one person was killed in the south-sea island kingdom following a six-hour battering in which winds reached speeds of 178mph.
However, thousands are homeless – 80 per cent of homes in some villages have been destroyed – and there is no clean drinking water, no power, no sanitation and, in some cases, little clothing.
Cyclone Ian, which struck three weeks ago, was so powerful that it lifted cars and moved buses, as well a stripping the roof off the local hospital.
Many people are now living in evacuation centres or tented communities, while the Tongan Government has declared a national emergency and is officially seeking international aid.
About 8,000 people live in Haa’pai, and the fear for their group of islands, and economically-poor Tonga in general, is that water-borne illnesses will thrive.
Food is also an issue as the cyclone has destroyed crops but the priority is clean drinking water, with the French Red Cross already having flown supplies of clean water in.
It is expected to be months before homes are rebuilt, and more bad weather is expected.
Tafa’s former Bradford & Bingley clubmate Latu Makaafi, who now plays for Jersey alongside fellow Tongan Elvis Taione, is also raising funds.
There was a bucket collection at their home match against Rotherham Titans last Saturday, while Makaafi had his head shaved to raise cash after the game was finished.
It is expected that Bradford & Bingley will have a bucket collection on Saturday at their home match against Old Crossleyans in the Yorkshire Cup.
Money can be sent to Unicef’s Tonga Cyclone Emergency appeal and there is also a Help for Haa’pai Appeal.