Ashburton mother four Fifita Satui was able to speak her family shortly before communications went cut in Tonga following the volcanic eruption on Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai on January 15.
The eruption on the uninhabited island sent a huge plume of ash, gas and steam 20 kilometers into the atmosphere and generated a 1.2m tsunami that crashed ashore in coastal areas of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa.
Tsunami warnings were also issued for Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Australia, and New Zealand.
Fifita said she had spoken to her two sisters and father, who lived together and close to Nuku’alofa, just after the eruption and had been reassured that they were all safe.
decided to stay put in the two storey house because of the huge traffic jams on the streets.
“My younger sister also has a one month old baby and they did not want to expose the girl to all the ash flying around.”
Fifita, who has called Ashburton home since 2013 and works as both a teacher aide and care assistant, said nine other family members had moved from the west of the island to join the family because they were scared to stay in their own home.
Communications with Tonga did not come back on until January 21 and are still limited.
Fifita said she was thankful that the eruption did not claim more lives and do more damage than it did.
“I was told that there was a huge bang when the eruption occurred and I can’t image how scared people must have been.
“At the moment my family is focused on cleaning up the ash and fine rock which is three to four centimetres thick on the roof of the house. It’s been a struggle to get it off because it’s already started to set like cement.”
Fifita said Tonga was a religious country and a strong faith was helping people get through the tough situation.
She said a a prayer chain started by church leaders and spread by Tongans around the world had helped with the disconnect that many expats felt at this difficult time.
“It gave me comfort and reassurance just listening to all the prayers, which went on for a number of days.”
Even the shops in Tonga, which are strictly closed on Sundays, were allowed to open recently to allow people to buy essentials.
In Ashburton church leaders have come together to help with the Tongan relief effort.
A container is being sought and local families will make up food and drink parcels to be shipped off to family members.
Anyone able to support the relief effort and help with the costs of a container or shipping can contact Ana on 021 0886 8780.
-By Mick Jensen