TONGA – A storm barreling toward the Pacific island nation of Tonga could be the most powerful to ever hit the country.
Tropical Cyclone Gita is expected to hit Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital, with heavy winds up to 215 kilometers per hour (134 miles per hour) and upwards of 250 millimeters (10 inches) of rainfall Monday.
Flooding and storm surges are expected to be another concern over the next 24 hours.
The Tongan Red Cross has warned the community that it could be in for a direct hit, and Tongan Police Commissioner Stephen Caldwell said Gita “could be the most powerful in the country’s history.”
“We are urging people to seek refuge from this severe cyclone,” Caldwell said.
Gita will strengthen to the equivalent of a weak Category 4 Atlantic Hurricane Monday, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
“Gita could be the strongest tropical cyclone to hit this close to the Tongan capital in the past 28 years,” said Guy.
Tonga is made up of 171 islands, only 45 of which are inhabited. The country’s total population is around 106,000 people.
Last week, Gita brought heavy rainfall to both Samoa and American Samoa, hitting those areas as a tropical depression.
Tonga’s acting Prime Minister, Semisi Sika, has declared a month-long state of emergency ahead of the storm.
As part of the emergency declaration, a curfew has been issued in the central business district Nuku’alofa, the Tongan Ministry of Information and Communication said in a news release. Those who live inside the district are being advised to stay indoors or move to an evacuation center.
After the storm hits Tonga, it’s expected to pass south of Fiji and New Caledonia.