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Half of LDS homes in Tonga destroyed or damaged by brutal cyclone

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 15 2014 12:50 p.m. MST

This aerial photo released by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, taken on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, shows the damage to Ha'apai island group, in Tonga, following Cyclone Ian. Tongan officials said about 300 to 400 families had their homes severely damaged or destroyed in the powerful storm that struck Saturday but they are relieved the death toll hasnít risen beyond one. (AP Photo/Royal New Zealand Air Force) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Uncredited, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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NUKU'ALOFA, TONGA — Half of the homes of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the path of a violent tropical cyclone that struck Tonga over the weekend were destroyed or damaged, according to a church release.

Tropical Cyclone Ian lashed the island kingdom over the weekend with winds that reached 178 mph, making it a Category 5 storm — the most destructive. The cyclone ripped through the Ha'apai island chain, destroying most of the homes in some areas, the Associated Press reported.

The storm killed a woman on Lifuka, one of Ha'apai's small islands, the head of the Tongan Red Cross told the New Zealand Herald. Authorities continue to search remote islands for victims.

The LDS Church reported that all missionaries in the area are safe. It also said many of the displaced people in the Ha'apai group of islands are staying in LDS buildings.

The church rushed to provide relief in several ways:

• A church facilities manager took four chain saws and 100 tarpaulins by naval vessel to Ha’apai Sunday.

• Church members and missionaries helped load emergency supplies on a chartered plane Sunday, and the church shared the costs of the flight with Digicel Tonga, a telecommunications service provider, according to an independent report.

Digicel Tonga CEO Jack Bourke and the company's commercial director Joanna Bourke told Pacific Eye Witness that church leaders contacted them and asked to be on the flight.

“Obviously they've got a huge fellowship right up there and throughout the country," Jack Bourke told the reporter, "and if you’re familiar with their architecture, it’s solid concrete. From what I’ve heard, people have been taking refuge at their chapels on Ha’apai."

• The church also sent emergency supplies via boat from the capital city of Nuku'alofa on Tongatapu, the main island of the kingdom of Tonga.

The boat carried water, food, chain saws, water filters, generators and other emergency supplies Monday night. The shipment arrived Tuesday morning.

The church release said Latter-day Saints on Tongatapu donated food, clothing, blankets and other items from their own homes.

• The church donated $25,000, the release said, "for the purchase of food, generators, tarpaulins, ropes and other items to assist church members, their neighbours and those who are sheltered in church facilities."

• A contingent of church leaders in the region headed to Ha'apai Tuesday to assess the situation and meet with local church and community leaders. The group includes Elder ‘Aisake Tukuafu, who is an Area Seventy, and Tonga Nuku'alofa Mission President Leitoni Tupou.

They were joined by the church’s Tonga service center manager Howard Niu.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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