Response Updates

Convoy Is Responding to Eruption & Tsunami in Tonga

Tonga Reported by

February 11, 2022 | 11:55 a.m.

Although experts are still working to restore internet connectivity in Tonga, and communication challenges continue, the Convoy of Hope Australia team has facilitated communication between Tonga and Convoy’s headquarters. This communication has allowed Convoy of Hope to provide emergency relief supplies to survivors across the disaster zone.

“The Hunga Tonga volcano’s shockwave shattered Tonga’s internet connection, adding days of gut-wrenching uncertainty to disaster assessments,” Fiji Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said in a tweet.

The tsunami ruptured an undersea cable, which Tonga relied on for internet and telecommunication. Even with help from experts like SpaceX, the island nation’s struggle to fully restore connectivity remains.

While many humanitarian organizations grappled with a unique issue — how to respond to a disaster in a nation with limited connection to the outside world — the Convoy of Hope Australia team helped establish communications, allowing Convoy to assess needs and respond in a timely manner.

Tonga’s pandemic concerns added another layer of complexity to this response. Due to spiking COVID-19 cases around the world, Tonga’s government remains wary of disaster aid from other countries. However, Convoy’s national church partner in Tonga is facilitating a safe, in-country response through which Convoy of Hope can provide help to survivors.

Convoy is providing food, water, hygiene kits, and other relief supplies to survivors across the disaster zone. This response also includes parts of Vanuatu, where the tsunami destroyed homes and contaminated water supplies.

To contribute to Convoy of Hope as this response continues, click here.

January 19, 2022 | 5:05 p.m.

As this response continues and more details become apparent, Convoy of Hope remains committed to navigating hurdles in the face of disaster.

“Stuff like this just doesn’t happen to people like us. But then, it does,” said Nick Eleini.

Nick was composed yet emotional as he talked to Sky News about the recent loss of his sister, Angela Glover. Angela was one of three people that Tongan government officials confirmed dead after the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. Two more people lost their lives in Peru. Further casualty counts are still pending.

The underwater volcano responsible, Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai, continued to erupt over the weekend. The initial eruption sent a cloud of ash more than 12 miles into the air and caused the equivalent of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Subsequent eruptions caused additional earthquakes and spewed more ash and toxic fumes over already struggling communities.

Tonga’s airport is still covered with ash, preventing planes from landing. However, military aircraft from New Zealand and Australia flew over the island nation to assist with damage assessments. Resulting images showed harrowing devastation. On Tonga’s Mango Island, all residential structures were destroyed. On the island of Fonoifua, only two houses remained.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reported that Tonga’s capital is “covered in a thick film of volcanic dust.” Officials from Australia described seeing “houses thrown around.” 

On Tuesday, Tongan government issued a statement confirming extensive damage on many of the nation’s islands, as well as persistent communication complications after the eruption damaged a pivotal underwater cable. 

Convoy of Hope’s partners on the ground confirmed that the disaster also impacted Fiji, Vanuatu, and American Samoa. Volcanic ash and sea water have contaminated drinking water in many areas, prompting major concern from government officials and an officially declared state of emergency from the Tongan government. 

As specific needs become more apparent, Convoy of Hope will continue responding to this disaster as survivors recover.

January 15, 2022 | 1 p.m.

​​On Saturday morning, an underwater volcano in the South Pacific erupted, triggering a tsunami. The tsunami traveled less than 20 miles before striking Tonga, an island nation east of Australia. Convoy of Hope quickly sprang into action.

In this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, January 15, 2022. An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground. (Japan Meteorology Agency via AP)

Residents of Tonga, Australia, New Zealand, and eventually the U.S. heard what many described as a “thunderous roar” as the sound of the blast traveled across the pacific. 

Survivor Mere Taufa was getting ready for dinner when she heard the eruption.

“It was massive,” she told New Zealand news site Stuff. “The ground shook. Our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby.” Moments later, the tsunami arrived. “You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher grounds.”

“A TSUNAMI WARNING IS NOW IN FORCE FOR ALL OF TONGA,” Tongan Meteorological Services wrote on social media just before the tsunami struck. Tonga’s Public Service Commission began using the hashtag #BeSafeEveryone while issuing government closure notices ahead of the disaster. 

The tsunami quickly flooded the island nation as volcanic ash fell through the sky. Nearly all electricity across Tonga soon disappeared, as did phone and internet services. Damage assessment and casualty counts are still pending. 

“This is a pretty big event — it’s one of the more significant eruptions of the last decade at least,” Professor Shane Cronin, a volcanologist at the University of Auckland, told the BBC. “The most remarkable thing about it is how rapidly and violently it’s spread. This one was large — a much wider lateral spread. Much more ash was produced. I expect there to be many centimeters of ash that have been deposited on Tonga.”

Nations as far away as the U.S. issued tsunami advisories as the wave continued past Tonga. Those in coastal areas in the tsunami’s path are advised to move away from the shore. Tongan Meteorological Services also have active advisories for heavy rain, flash flooding, and strong winds. 

Convoy of Hope is in communication with affected communities and will work to provide relief in the areas of greatest need. Updates will be posted here.

To donate to Convoy as this response continues, click here.

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