Anxious wait for news after Tonga cut off

Published: 18 Jan 2022

Online Desk

Tongans living overseas are facing an anxious wait for news of loved ones after a volcano triggered a tsunami.

The underwater volcano erupted on Saturday, about 65km (40 miles) north of the capital Nuku'alofa, reports BBC.

The eruption, which was heard as far away as the US, caused waves higher than a metre to crash into Tonga.

Local authorities have not confirmed any deaths but communications are crippled, making it difficult to establish the scale of the destruction.

However, the brother of a British woman said she died after being swept away in the waves. Angela Glover, 50, was washed away while trying to save her dogs.

More than 10,000km away, two people drowned off a beach in northern Peru amid abnormally high waves.

Both New Zealand and Australia sent surveillance flights to find out more, with New Zealand saying there had been "significant damage" along the western coast of Tongatapu, Tonga's main island.

But the Red Cross gave some cause for hope, saying reports suggested the damage was not as bad as had been feared.

"We believe that from the information that we can put together that it is not as catastrophic in those major population centres as we first thought that it might be, so that's really good news," said Katie Greenwood, who is co-ordinating the organisation's response from Fiji.

Tonga is virtually unreachable after a critical undersea cable connecting the Pacific islands to the outside world was severed. It may take up to two weeks to restore phone and internet lines.

But a distress signal has been detected from two small, isolated Tongan islands, the UN says.

'We are just desperate'

For many Tongans living overseas, it has been two days since they have been able to speak to family and friends.

Petilise Tuima told the Sydney Morning Herald that the last time she spoke to her family was on Saturday afternoon when they were fleeing to higher ground.

"Everyone is calling each other within our Tongan groups, wanting to see if anyone has picked up or heard anything... We are just desperate," she said.

Siniva Filise, a Tongan in Wales, told the BBC she had been unable to contact her elderly parents.

"I'm worried now do they have food? Or clean water to drink?"

The Ha'atafu Beach Resort on Tongatapu was "completely wiped out" and "the whole western coastline completely destroyed", according to a post on the resort's Facebook page written by contacts overseas.

The post said those living there "just managed to get to safety running through the bushes and escaping", and were "not able to save anything".