Tonga parliament building flattened by Cyclone Gita

The parliament building in the Pacific country of Tonga has been destroyed by the worst storm to hit the country in more than 60 years.

Cyclone Gita, a category four storm, battered the island overnight and caused widespread damage.

Electricity lines were downed and roofs were torn off houses by the high winds.

The government declared a state of emergency before the storm hit, and set up evacuation centres where thousands of people stayed overnight.

“The wind was terrifying. It was roaring overhead. We could hear roofs being lifted,” witness Mary Fonua told Radio New Zealand.

“I could see the people across the road, their roof was flapping around the house, it was trying to disintegrate. I think a lot of people were very desperate last night.”

The UK Met Office said the storm – which brought winds of more than 200km/h (124mph) – was the strongest to hit the main islands of Tonga, which is made up of more than 170 islands, since modern records began.

Tonga’s parliament building is more than 100 years old. It is not yet clear where MPs will sit while it is being repaired.

One MP, Lord Fusitu’a, told ABC News that the damage was “a great disappointment”.

“Successive legislatures over the years have suggested building a new parliament house and I guess that’ll be a necessity now,” he said.

Gita is expected to intensify into a category five storm – the highest level – on Tuesday as it moves towards Fiji.

But experts predict it will miss the country’s most densely populated areas.