News Release

Vava’u Residents Shelter in Church Buildings During Cyclone Winston

As Cyclone Winston pummelled the Tongan islands of Vava’u late last week, 1,850 people took shelter in Latter-day Saint (Mormon) church buildings.

The category 4 storm hit the Pacific Island Group twice before it moved west, rising to a category 5 cyclone by the time it hit Fiji Saturday.

One person who sheltered in a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse was Li’ekina Finau. She said she was grateful that the Church had a building in her village that could protect her and her family.

Maka Ika Faaoa noted that the Church buildings were built with strong materials, providing a refuge from the storm.

Garrick Parr, Tonga Service Centre manager for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, travelled to Vava’u on Saturday with an assessment team which included Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners as well as representatives from non-governmental organisations and the Tongan Government.

No fatalities have been reported on the island of Vava’u.

Some schools and homes on the island sustained damage, and many of the island’s family and communal gardens were destroyed.

By Saturday evening, those sheltering in Church buildings had safely returned to their villages.

“The chapels were all clean and reset, ready for normal Church meetings Sunday!” Mr Parr said.

The Tongan Government expressed gratitude to Church representatives for opening up Latter-day Saint buildings for those who needed shelter.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.