Monday, February 15, noon
Kathy and I are enjoying our lunch of crackers and cheese, apples, and brownies while we listen to and watch the torrential rain outside the windows of our second floor room at the Peace Corps office. Last evening we received a “consolidation” order from our Country Director, which means all PCVs on Tongatapu were to make their way (we took a taxi) to the Peace Corps office to ride out Cyclone Rene. As of this hour Rene has passed directly over the Northern island group of Vava’u as a Category 3 cyclone (equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane) and now has the middle island group of Ha’apai and us directly in her sights.
We came with food, some water, some bedding, iPods and computers. Here in Nuku’alofa the 13 of us are spread all over the building; most of us are in the training room right now watching a movie. We’re lucky; our Vava’u colleagues gathered in a local Mormon Church, and the Ha’apai group is all together in one of the volunteer’s home, so they do not have the luxury of space or electricity (we have a generator) that we do. We keep hoping the storm track will veer away to the West or East, but so far we have been disappointed on that score, so it looks like we are going to experience our first hurricane. We are informed that the cyclone proper should arrive later this afternoon and will probably take until early morning to pass through. At this point we have lost electricity, landline phones, and the internet, but cell phones are still working. While most everything is closed down, the food store across the street was still open as of an hour ago and there are a few cars on the increasingly waterlogged roads.
For the most part the local Tongans don’t seem to be taking the storm as seriously as we are. However, our immediate neighbors were boarding up windows as we are leaving yesterday evening, and because they own our little house they were going to put something up over our very exposed East facing windows. We’re hoping for the best as far as damage, but obviously won’t know anything until we can go home, which won’t be until tomorrow at the earliest.
Monday, 7 p.m.
Extremely strong winds and buckets of rain are exposing any place that will leak; the door from the outside to the room we’re camping in is letting in a fair amount of water from not just underneath, but around the sides and the top. Several smaller trees on the property have come down, and at least one screen door has been blown off one of the more exposed first floor rooms. The latest news is that the brunt of the hurricane will hit about 9 p.m. and we should expect the eye around midnight. That would mean we should be back to just gale force winds by dawn. What fun.
It’s been strangely quiet now for about 45 minutes. Was our forecast wrong? Is this the eye? Or the “armband?” I’ve never heard of an armband before, so I’m thinking (hoping) it’s the eye. We’ll know soon; if it’s the eye the winds will be coming from the opposite direction when it resumes. Anyway, the tension is eased, we took the group photo (hopefully I’ll have it to post) and now everybody’s getting ready to watch another movie.
The winds have picked up again, and the good news they’re coming from the North! That means it was the “eye” and while we’re in for another 3 or 4 hours of blasting, the winds should gradually diminish as Rene passes on by. The bad news is we have no power to the second floor of the building where we are all staying; some glitch in the building’s electrical system. The generator continues to run and the lights, etc. are all working on the first floor, so the movie watchers moved down to the volunteer lounge to watch on the TV down there. Kathy and I and others are staying up here, writing on our computers and thinking about getting some sleep.
Tuesday, February 16, 6:30 a.m.
As predicted the winds continued all night, although without as much rain as earlier. I’m up at 6:30, and the Country Director is starting to waken everybody to send us home. The brunt of the storm is past, and we will continue with strong winds all day, but we’re up and moving.
Our little house is in remarkably good shape. The cardboard nailed up by our landlords’ boys has kept water from blowing in our windows, and we only have some water on the floor by the back door to clean up. No power, so no internet, but we do have water. We are most thankful that the storm has spared us from any significant damage. Our little cat Lilo greeted us hungrily, and she has now had her first food in a few days. We’ve boiled some water on the stove and made French press coffee and are feeling pretty good—and pretty darn lucky. While there is a lot of debris around, a number of uprooted trees and many broken branches (one appears to have taken out our power line), there does not appear to be any major damage. We see evidence of a few roofs that have come off, but nothing more serious than that. Life is slowly returning to normal. We don’t expect to have power for a few days, but we do have water so we’ll be fine. And probably back to work tomorrow.