AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Jan. 17, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Regional leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say they are still waiting to make contact with Tongan missionaries serving in the Tonga Outer Island Mission.
Communications to the island, and throughout the region, were cut off Saturday after the undersea eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, about 40 miles off the north coast of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.
In addition to the triggering the tsunami, the blast sent a plume of ash and smoke more than 12,000 feet high, impacting the weather and filling the sky with dark volcanic ash.
According to a statement posted on the Church’s website: “Church leaders in Tonga are not aware of any loss of life on Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island. Reports from outer islands are still being sought but communication lines being down and rough seas are hampering efforts, although the Tongan Navy has now been able to put to sea to gather further information.
“Missionaries serving in the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission are safe. Due to communication channels being down to outer islands, no contact has been made, to this point, with missionaries in Tonga’s second mission, the Tonga Outer Island Mission.
“There is significant water damage to foreshore homes and businesses on Tongatapu. There is phone communication on Tongatapu but not internationally or between the Islands of Tonga. The International phone lines are not functioning due to what is suspected to be issues with the underwater communication cable.”
The church’s Pacific Area President Elder Ian S. Ardern, headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand wrote, “We are working with government and other officials in the region to identify urgent needs and how we can support efforts to alleviate suffering and help communities get back on their feet after this disaster. It is in times such as these that we are grateful for the generosity of members of the Church who donate to the Church Humanitarian fund for there will be a need of temporal assistance in Tonga.”
1.14.2022: (correction on date) Large volcanic eruption near Tonga (Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano) today as seen from outer space. Shown on visible imagery using the Himawari satellite. #hiwx #tsunami #earthquake pic.twitter.com/Y18W7wvXl9
— NWSHonolulu (@NWSHonolulu) January 15, 2022
The volcanic eruption at 5:26 p.m. local time Saturday was captured by satellites in a stunning display of power which shook the region with sonic booms and a thunderous roar, followed by the tsunamis which swamped shorelines as far away as the U.S. West Coast.
Videos taken in the aftermath of the eruption showed substantial damage as the tsunamis came ashore and authorities fear it may just show a small percentage of the actual damage.
Tsunami videos out of Tonga 🇹🇴 this afternoon following the Volcano Eruption. pic.twitter.com/JTIcEdbpGe
— Jese Tuisinu (@JTuisinu) January 15, 2022
The volcanic ash, which had been falling since the eruption, finally stopped on Tongatapu early Sunday afternoon (Tonga time) but “left a film of black” across the Island. In the words of local Church leader, Elder Inoke Kupu, “There is only one colour in Tonga right now, and that is a dark dust.”
Drinking water is the most immediate need, according to the online statement. The Church is helping with distribution “as assessments by government authorities continue.”
Fifty thousand donated masks, already sent to Tonga for pandemic purposes, will be distributed to prevent inhaling the volcanic dust.
The Church’s is using Liahona High School and Latter-day Saint chapels to help provide relief efforts for evacuees from the coastal areas.
The Church’s online post says there are 174 congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tonga. A temple is located in Nuku’alofa and a second temple is being constructed on the island of Vava’u..