News Item

​Surviving Cyclone Gita

News 10 May 2018

Tiffany Babbington’s arrival as New Zealand’s new Head of Mission to Tonga in mid-February was hardly the warmest of welcomes.

Cyclone Gita struck with such ferocity on 13 February that she admits to wondering whether she’d have a place to stay.

“Apparently, it’s the most devastating Cyclone to hit Tonga since 1982 (when Cyclone Isaac struck),” she says.

“It was a frantic few days and there were genuine fears for our staff, with 35 sheltering at our offices. There were strong storm surges and the loud noise seemed relentless.”

Once the Cyclone eventually subsided, Tiffany and her team emerged from the destruction relatively unscathed considering the enormity of the cyclone. What impressed her was the resilience of the locals.

“Many families had basically lost everything, yet they returned to their homes the next day to start cleaning up the pieces,” she says.

“The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent. And researching the area made me realise how vulnerable Tonga is due to its location and the effects of its deep trench nearby.”

At 10,882m deep, the Tonga Trench is second only to the Mariana Trench of the Philippines, which is 10,911m.

Tiffany, who has a Bachelor’s degree in political science from Victoria University in Wellington, has three sons living in New Zealand.

She is an experienced diplomat, having been posted to Vanuatu and Italy to work on global development, Pacific regional, Niue and Tokelau issues. Her more recent development work spans across all the main continents.

Having faced a significant cyclone on arriving in Tonga, Tiffany’s more than ready to face the other challenges that lie ahead and looks forward to the networking opportunities the Pacific Heads of Mission (HOMS) Breakfast provides on 25 May in Auckland.