Auckland’s Tongan community is desperate for news of loved ones back home and many spent yesterday in vain trying to contact them after a mammoth volcanic eruption rocked the island kingdom.
One Auckland man’s family has managed to make contact with a relative in the capital, Nuku’alofa, who described the island as being “covered in volcanic ash” after Saturday evening’s eruption.
Sola Vuna, a teacher at Manurewa High School, said his family only got a brief message back from the relative late yesterday morning.
He described the main seaside road — Vuna Rd — ascovered with debris from the sea.
Communication lines remained downlast night.
The relative also reported that the wharf on ‘Eua island was badly damaged and there were fears for those on the small islands of Nomuka and Atatā, two of the closest to the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano which sent ash, steam and gas up to 20km into the air on Saturday and a tsunami and surging swells around Tonga and the wider Pacific.
Vuna Rd also runs past the royal palace, which was evacuated. King Tupou VI was among the members evacuated.
Vuna said efforts to contact relatives in the Kingdom spanned cousins in America, Australia and around New Zealand making calls to various phone numbers and Facebook pages.
“We’ve all been trying and we’re still trying,” he said last night.
“My mum’s brother and sister and cousins are all in Tonga and my dad — his two older brothers are there.”
Vuna said his elderly parents, Salome and Filimone, had been up all night Saturday praying and listening to the Tongan radio station forupdates.
“There was an online prayer session [on Saturday] night. Mum’s been crying and singing and crying again.”
Auckland Tongan community leader Melino Maka said not knowing what was happening was the worst part.
“I’ve even tried calling some of the ministers I know there through their direct person phones — no luck at all.”
It’s believed ash cloud from the underwater volcano has contaminated Tonga’s water supplies and sparked fears the air was toxic.
Iliesa Tora, who moved on Saturday night to higher ground on Tonga’s largest island, Tongatapu, described rocks showering down as he and his family drove to safety.
“Small rocks from the volcanic eruption started to fall like rain,” he said in a video posted to social media translated into English by the Fiji Times.
New Zealand’s Acting High Commissioner to Tonga Peter Lund told TVNZ that Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa looks “like a moonscape” after being blanketed in volcanic ash. He said therewas a lot of damage on the Nuku’alofa waterfront, and the western coast was “pummeled quite badly”.
“Thankfully we’re not facing devastation on a mass scale but there will be some serious issues to address given what the volcanic ash has done to the soil and the land.”
Lund said there were reports of people being unaccounted for.
There had been no official reports of injuries or deaths but yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said satellite images “brought home the scale and the violence of that eruption” and that videos of the tsunami’s surge would have been “hugely concerning” those who saw them.
Ardern committed toprovide Tonga with whatever help it needed. Initial requests were for water because of contamination of existing supplies from volcanic ash, Ardern said.
An initial $500,000 of aid has been committed by New Zealand as “a starting figure”.
A New Zealand Defence Force plane is likely to leave today, while a New Zealand Navy vessel is on standby to provide assistance if it is required.
Ardern urged New Zealanders in Tonga to keep family informed of their wellbeing.
Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio said those with links to Tonga were understandably worried.
“The Pacific are part of our family and so there’s been overwhelming concern from the diaspora here,” he said.
Saturday night’s swells spread around the Pacific but hit hardest in New Zealand at Northland’s Tutukaka Marina, causing millions of dollars of damage to boats and facilities. Between 50 and 60 vessels were damaged and around a dozen were sunk.
Tsunami advisories were issued for Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast. Authorities in Southern California closed beaches and piers as a precaution.
– Additional reporting: George Clark, Northern Advocate
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