Latter-day Saint missionaries safe on remote Tongan island, Church says

Aerial view of this he Nokuma, Tonga coastline taken from a Royal New Zealand Air Force reconnaissance flight shows a landscape covered in volcanic ash. Photo: Royal New Zealand Air Force

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Jan. 20, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued an update on emergency relief efforts in Tonga in the aftermath of the unprecedented volcanic eruption and tsunami that struck the area on Saturday.

“All members and missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been contacted and all are safe,” the Thursday update says. “President Sitiveni Fehoko, of the Tonga Outer Islands Mission, is continuing his visits to the outer islands of the Ha’apai group to assess needs and offer love and support.”

Communications to the region had been cutoff since the weekend eruption and tsunami which followed.

Video taken by Lua Langi, Church communication director, at her home near Nuku’alofa, shows a massive column of ash and smoke rising above the island, before explosions and sonic booms can be heard along with the sound of ash and rocks pelting the roof.

“Liahona High school is still being used by members and friends of the Church for emergency accommodation. On Wednesday night 317 people stayed at the school, down from a high of 1,250 people after the disaster.”

According to the update, limited communication (G2) has been restored, but voice contact is still difficult, and data transmission is very weak.

Forty percent of the government-supplied tap water is not potable, so other sources are being used, the Church said.

“The outer islands of Lulunga and Ha’apai need water and food. Church leaders have hired a half share of a sizeable boat to take water from the tanks at Liahona High School, food and other items to these islands on Saturday, weather permitting.

“The outer Islands are entirely dependent on rainwater collected in tanks and that has been contaminated so urgent action is needed.”

There should be sufficient water for the people on Tongatapu, as a water purification unit from New Zealand “will cater to the immediate needs,” the update says.

A plane from the New Zealand Air Force has dropped emergency supplies, and an Australian Air Force plane has also brought aid.

“We are calmly, yet with urgency, working through different options to quickly get needed water and other needs into Tonga,” Elder Ian S. Ardern said on Thursday evening. “The food and other supplies for the outer islands will come from the local members…it is the Tongan way,” the update says.

Church leaders will continue to coordinate with governments and other organizations in responding to the needs of the people.

The Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruputed on 15 January 2022. Photo: Tonga Geological Services

BBC News reported on Thursday evening on the emergency and some of the involvement of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To view the complete update, as well as a letter from the First Presidency to Church members in Tonga, click here.

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