Tongans in Australia reconnect with loved ones after days of no contact following the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption
More stories of trauma and near-misses are emerging from Tonga, which is still struggling to repair its international telecommunications link.
- Main telecom lines are still down in Tonga after the volcanic eruption nearly two weeks ago
- Volcanic ash also remains a major problem for the recovery effort.
- Aid agencies have warned clean water will continue to be a critical issue
Vika Tukuafu, a grade 11 student from Brisbane, was on a video call with her parents in Tonga and lost contact when the tsunami waves started rolling in.
“It was terrifying,” she said.
“I could see my younger sister; she said, ‘You see, there’s a tsunami here’ and I could see she was scared.
“And then my other sister, I just heard her from the background crying and praying at the same time.”
Vika heard from her parents again two days after the eruption.
“We give all honor and glory to God. They are all safe,” she said.
The Tukuafu family, owners of Vakaloa Beach Resort in the village of Kanokupolu on the northwestern tip of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, now keep in touch by phone and social media.
“People are going through very difficult times here in Kanokupolu,” Vika’s mother Marian said in a Facebook video post.
“Many people [are] losing their homes, their businesses, without shelter or drinking water.
“But we are always grateful to breathe.”
Their seaside resort, rebuilt after multiple cyclones, is now destroyed.
“He is completely devastated,” Vika said at 7:30 a.m.
“And it will have a huge impact on the employees and the people who make a living from the station.
“But again, glory and honor that they’re still alive, you know.”
A traumatic escape
Australian Tongan TV channel Mele Ngauamo had to wait nearly a week before learning that her two sisters and brother were safe.
One of her sisters struggled to get to the heights with her family because hot ashes fell on the windshield.
“They had to use up all their little drinking water for the kids who were in the car for the [car] wipers,” she said.
“You couldn’t see… the car in front of you, so they had to use up all their drinking water.
In a video shot by Broadcom Broadcasting reporter Marian Kupu near the Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa, days after the volcanic eruption, two foreign teachers explained how it was on the day of the blast.
“It was really loud…we couldn’t hear each other – it was just [broke] our eardrums,” said Quenda Vovo, a teacher from the Solomon Islands.
The tsunamis destroyed their school.
“All of our precious things for our school resources…laptops, you can name them, [it’s] it’s all gone,” she said.
As part of the cleanup, villagers sweep thick volcanic ash from the roads to create temporary traffic hazards.
“The bumps in the road are created by the villagers because they want the cars to slow down because of the dust,” Ms Kupu said.
Drinking water, a crucial issue
As much-needed relief supplies have started arriving in volcano-ravaged Tonga, aid agencies are warning that water will continue to be a critical issue.
“We have two problems,” said Katie Greenwood of the International Red Cross.
“The ashfall created problems for drinking water and entered rainwater and other reservoirs, and there was saltwater intrusion from the tsunami waves into groundwater.”
The Kingdom of Tonga estimates that 84% of its population of just over 100,000 people were affected by ash and tsunamis from the January 15 explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano.
The worst affected areas are the west coast of the main island of Tongatapu, including the capital Nuku’alofa, and the smaller islands northeast of the volcano in the Ha’apai group.
“There are a lot of these islands where all the infrastructure, all the structures and the houses have been completely wiped out,” Ms Greenwood said.