Tonga tsunami: Those in Utah feel ‘helpless’ as they wait for word on family

Jan 17, 2022, 7:41 PM
This photo from the Tonga Geological Services shows the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai eruption and th...
This photo from the Tonga Geological Services shows the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai eruption and the 3-mile-wide plume of ash, steam and gas rising to 12 miles above sea level on Jan. 14, 2022.

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of Utah’s Tongan community are nervously waiting for any updates from their loved ones, after tsunamis and volcanic activity have hit the island nation.  Phone lines and internet connections are still down, and they have no idea how much damage has been done.

Vera Tukuafu was supposed to be back home in Tonga, but COVID-19 ruined her plans.  Her family visited her daughter who was attending BYU Hawaii in 2020, but Tonga closed their borders when the global pandemic hit.  She still has family members in Tonga, but she has received very little information about how they’re faring.

“We did receive some confirmation that some of our family members are ok, that they’re safe,” Tukuafu said.

Tonga tsunami

They’re hearing that the tsunami and volcanic eruption have caused major damage to one side of the island. However, they’re not getting any reports of mass casualties.  Nevertheless, Tukuafu says she feels helpless as they wait to find out what has happened to their family.

She said, “We’re barely hanging in there.  We’re just glued to our phone and our computers, just waiting for that moment where the green light on the messenger would come on.”

Flights sent to assess damage

ABC News is reporting countries like New Zealand and Australia are sending flights and satellites to assess the damage from the Tonga tsunami.  However, undersea cables that provide international communication are down, and it could be a week before they’re repaired.

National Tongan American Society of Utah Executive Director Fahina Tavake-Pasi said, “It has been difficult to reach [anyone] because things are down out there.  We’ve had a couple of people that have satellite phones that have reached out.”

Tavake-Pasi says people from the unaffected part of the island are taking in people who have been displaced by the tsunami.  She says Tongans in Utah are less concerned about the damage that may have been done. And more concerned with finding out if their loved ones have escaped the danger.

“If they are fine, the damages and all that kind of stuff… I mean, they worry about that, but it’s not a big worry,” she said.

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Tonga tsunami: Those in Utah feel ‘helpless’ as they wait for word on family