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Tonga braces for Cyclone Gita after storm batters Samoa

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Tonga was bracing for Tropical Cyclone Gita to hit on Monday after the powerful storm sparked evacuations and cut off water supplies in Samoa over the weekend. The Category 4 storm was moving south across the Pacific and was expected to hit Tonga's, capital, Nuku'alofa, by 7 p.m. on Monday (0600 GMT). "Very destructive hurricane force winds are expected from this evening," said the Tongan Metservice as it issued a hurricane warning. The Red Cross said residents were racing to identify strong buildings to which to evacuate and clean up debris such as loose wood or metal that could turn into dangerous missiles during expected winds of up to 185 kilometers per hour (115 mph). "That's an incredibly strong cyclone ... people are getting prepared ... it really does save lives," said Hanna Butler, Red Cross Pacific spokeswoman based in Fiji. The Metservice also warned of huge coastal swells and flooding of low-lying areas. The storm pummeled Samoa and American Samoa over the weekend, flooding the Samoan capital, Apia. About 300 people had evacuated but were now returning to their homes, Butler said. Many people remained without clean, running water. (Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Peter Cooney)