17 Jan 2022, 13:10

Anxious wait for overseas Tongans after huge eruption

 WELLINGTON, Jan 17, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - Overseas Tongans waited anxiously for

news of loved ones Monday 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

   "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.

   - 'Hopeful' -

   "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

   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.

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