Tropical cyclone Heta with hurricane-force winds gusting to 120 miles per hour swept across the Pacific island of Niue Jan. 5, destroying the homes of seven member families and damaging the homes of the other members on the island.
No missionaries or members were hurt in the storm, which left one dead and injured 120 of the 2,000 island population. The three meetinghouses on the island sustained minor damage in the storm, which destroyed the only hospital on the island and 70 homes.
The storm also left a path of destruction on the island nations of Samoa and Tonga on Jan. 5 and 6.
President Douglas W. Banks of the Tonga Nuku'alofa Mission and President Rendel V. Broomhead of the Samoa Apia Mission have reported that all members and missionaries are accounted for and none have suffered injuries from the fierce storm.
Initial reports coming from Samoa indicate that most Church buildings there sustained only minor damage. The Lautu'anu'u meetinghouse, on the eastern end of the island of Upolu, suffered the heaviest damage when it was struck by a wall of seawater and high winds, losing windows, several classrooms and a bishop's office. Another building on Savai'i sustained similar damage from the water and winds.
Suliasi Kaufusi, manager of the Church's Tonga Service Center, reported that the small island of Niuatoputapu in northern Tonga was directly in the path of Heta.
"There was only one member, a widow, whose house was completely destroyed."
A few roofs were lost, but no other major damage has been reported. Brother Kaufusi was preparing to send needed relief materials to the areas of Tonga hardest hit by the storm. A refugee camp for families, members and others whose homes have been damaged, has been set up in the meetinghouse at Vaipoa on Niuatoputapu.
"How long they will be staying there will rest totally on how fast the branch president and his crew will fix the damages (to the refugees homes)." Brother Kaufusi said.
Reports from American Samoa indicate damage is much less serious with only a chapel in the capital city of Pago Pago sustaining minor damage when a coconut tree fell on the roof.