NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga — Mormon missionaries serving in cyclone-battered Tonga and Samoa are accounted for and unharmed.
“All missionaries serving in the Samoa Apia Mission and the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission are safe as Tropical Cyclone Gita moves through the region,” said Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff. “Missionaries in Tonga are taking refuge in Church buildings away from the coast and have taken necessary preparations to help keep them safe.
“We pray for all those in the South Pacific who are impacted by this powerful storm.”
Tropical Cyclone Gita has hammered Tonga and neighboring South Pacific islands with what is being called the most powerful storm to hit that region in memory.
A tropical cyclone is the same type of storm as a hurricane.
The eye of Gita passed just south of the low-lying Tongatapu group of islands in southern Tonga on Feb. 12 with maximum sustained winds estimated at 145 mph, the Associated Press reported. The nation has declared a state of emergency.
Residents prepared for the cyclone by nailing boards and roofing iron to the homes to try to limit the damage from coconuts, trees and other flying debris.
Gita has strengthened since hitting Samoa and American Samoa last weekend, where it caused damage to buildings, flooding and widespread power outages, according to the AP reports. U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday, Feb. 11, declared an emergency in American Samoa, a U.S. territory.
Weather experts anticipate flooding and coastal inundation to cause as many problems as wind damage. After passing by Tonga, Gita is expected to travel west before slowly dissipating.
Some Church meetinghouses are being used to provide shelter to those who cannot stay in their homes until flood-waters subside, according to Mormon Newsroom.
There have been reports of family and community vegetable gardens losing crops.
The LDS service centre in Pesega—the faith’s hub for construction, humanitarian and other temporal affairs efforts in Samoa and American Samoa—was flooded and its septic tank breached. Fouled water supplies have also been reported in other locations.
The Church’s Ottoville Stake Centre in Pago Pago suffered damage to the roof of its cultural hall. Trees have fallen on some of the Church’s meetinghouse fences, Mormon Newsroom reported.
Church leaders in Samoa and American Samoa continue to work with government agencies to coordinate volunteer support in affected areas.
Home to more than 64,000 members, Tonga enjoys a rich Mormon history. The island nation has the largest number of Latter-day Saints, per capita, of any nation in the world.
More than 78,000 Latter-day Saints live in Samoa.
The Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple serves approximately 41,000 members throughout Tonga and the Line Islands of the Pacific Ocean.