Anxious wait for overseas Tongans after huge eruption
Overseas Tongans waited anxiously for news of loved ones on Jan. 17 after a volcanic eruption and tsunami severed communications with the Pacific kingdom.
Concerns among the 85,000-strong Tongan community in New Zealand were heightened by news it could be two weeks before communications are restored.
Besides leaving people in the dark about the fate of family, the internet cut threatened to hurt Tongans reliant on money transfers from relatives overseas. "I think the worst part is the blackout and the fact that we know nothing," said Filipo Motulalo, a New Zealand-based journalist with Pacific Media Network. "There is no communication," he added.
"Our home is among those close to the area that was flooded already so we don’t know how much damage there is."
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said officials had made satellite contact with the country’s high commission in Nuku’alofa after the powerful Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption.
The blast triggered a tsunami that swept Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States.
New Zealand was informed that there had been no reports of death or injury in the capital, but there was "significant" damage in some areas.
"I would say we’re anxious, not fearful," said the Auckland Tongan Community secretary, Kennedy Maeakafa Fakana’ana’a-ki-Fualu. "We’re hopeful everyone is alright. We accept there is a problem with the internet but we hope for the best," he told AFP. Fakana’ana’a-ki-Fualu, who is arranging for containers of relief supplies to be sent to Tonga, said a cable fault preventing internet access was a serious issue for families reliant on funds sent by the Tongan community in New Zealand.
"That will be a problem and we will have to look at alternatives," the community secretary said, adding that he expected the Tongan government, with support from New Zealand and Australia, "will be able to do something to help out."
Saturday’s powerful eruption was heard as far away as Alaska and Finland and triggered a tsunami that swept through coastal houses in Tonga, damaging infrastructure and dumping boats and boulders on shore.
"We pray God will help our country at this sad moment. We hope everybody is safe," Maikeli Atiola, the Secretary of the Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Auckland, told Radio New Zealand. Air New Zealand, meanwhile, has postponed a repatriation flight to Tonga because of the volcanic ash clouds from the eruption. The flight had been scheduled to leave Auckland this Thursday.