Reports of one death in Tonga from Cyclone Ian

Officials in Tonga have confirmed the first death from Severe Tropical Cyclone Ian as reports come in of widespread destruction on islands to the north.

The full extent of damage from the cyclone is still unclear as the category five system moves away from Tonga and out into the open ocean.

The huge storm slammed into the northern islands on Saturday before moving on to the main island overnight.

Emergency officials say there are now receiving reports up to 70 per cent of the houses on some of the smaller islands to the north have been destroyed or damaged.

Tonga's director of emergencies, Leveni Aho, has told the ABC he has serious concerns for those islands in the Ha'apai island group where communications have been cut.

"The picture comes to hand now, it was really bad," he said.

"I think it was 70 per cent of the housing of the two islands that we have access to now have been affected - destroyed or partially damaged.

"We have got some people sheltered in some of the evacuation centres, buildings and some of the churches."

Mr Aho there is still no communication with 80 per cent of the Ha'apai group of islands.

Plan International spokeswoman Kalolaine Kavaefiaifi says assessment teams left by boat this morning to check for casualties and damage.

"To try to find out the casualties and deaths there, and to see the situation there and the boat left this morning at 8am and probably they will arrive there in six hours," she said.

With the storm moving out to sea, an aerial survey of the area began this morning.

In Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa, residents hunkered down overnight as Ian passed, generating winds at the centre of the storm up to 200 kilometres per hour.

The most recent satellite images show Ian tracking south-southeast away from the the Tongatapu island group, where the capital is located.

The worst effects of Ian were expected to be felt across the capital between midnight and 3am Sunday local time.

The most recent update from the Fiji Meteorological Service, at about 5.30am Sunday local time, says the storm is located about 200 kilometres east-southeast of Nuku'alofa and is moving south-southeast at 20 kilometres per hour.

As it passed Nuku'alofa, at its centre the storm was packing winds of about 200 kilometres per hour, gusting up to 290 kilometres per hour.


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