Tauranga people with family in Tonga waited anxiously yesterday to hear how their loved ones had fared in Cyclone Gita.

Described as the worst ever cyclone to hit the tiny island nation, Gita was carrying winds of up to 195km/h when it raged past the main island of Tongatapu overnight on Monday.

On the island of 'Eua, a few dozen kilometres to the southeast, Sela Latu huddled on chairs with her children and extended family listening to radio updates as Gita's winds drove rain on to the floor of their home and ripped iron from the roof.

Latu, who is a manager for Tauranga-based company Heilala Vanilla, said in the middle of the night the nine family members ran in the wind and rain to a nearby empty house that was undamaged.

Advertisement

"I was really scared because my husband is not here and I have three kids."

Yesterday afternoon she said power was still out, and trees were down but the four pieces of iron that blew off the roof had been reattached.

Other, older houses had not fared so well, and she had seen one that had "nothing left on it" - walls and roof gone.

"It was a really bad one."

The vanilla crop was damaged, she said.

Jennifer Boggiss, Tauranga-based chief executive of the vanilla business, said it might be weeks or months before the full extent of the damage was known.

The company had three staff on 'Eua, as well as the wider community of workers that served the area's 40 or so vanilla farms.

"Over the following days, we will be liaising with our team and farmer communities on 'Eua to see how we can best support them.

"We remain loyal to Tonga and will do whatever we need to support our staff there."

There had been no damage on the island Vava'u, where the rest of the company's operations - and its founder, her father John Ross - were based.

Some Tongans in Tauranga , including Aongatete Coolstore's Sosole Taukatelata and local rugby player Pauly Hopoi, watched the storm unfold on Facebook live videos shot by family members.

Taukatelata was feeling "a bit nervous" as she waited for news of her in-laws, most of whom were on Tongatapu, yesterday.

She had been talking to them on Facebook on Monday night until their phones went flat - that was before the worst of the storm hit.

She hoped to be able to speak with them last night.

Hopoi said his cousins, aunties and uncles safely rode out the storm in their reasonably modern Tongatapu home.

A tree had been ripped out, but the house was largely fine.

"There is damage, but I am sure a lot of people have got it worse."

Ati Afou-Olive of Pasifika Bay of Plenty said his family in Samoa were also recovering from Gita's hit last week.

There had been a lot of flooding and people had requested financial help for repairs, he said.

Will New Zealand get hit?

A reduced-power Cyclone Gita may make landfall in New Zealand early next week.

MetService lead meteorologist Michael Martens told NZME the cyclone was moving towards the southern islands of Fiji and was likely to become a category 5 cyclone.

It was scheduled to pass south of New Caledonia on Saturday before heading south into the Tasman Sea.

"Early next week there is a chance it may reach New Zealand, but the model is still uncertain," Martens said.

"Once it moves out of the tropics and the sea temperature decreases it will lose a lot of its power.

"Even if it gets up to a category 5 it will likely be a 3 or a mid-level 2 storm if it reaches here."