Tonga tsunami brings disaster to 3 small islands

Tonga, a Pacific country has hit by a powerful tsunami Last weekend, it included about 170 islands, some small, spanning over 270,000 square miles, roughly the size of Texas.

Mostly uninhabited. 70% of Tonga’s roughly 100,000 people live on its largest hub, Tongatapu, a center of tourism and commerce, while others are scattered across about 35 islands – some with just a few dozen families. , appears on the world map little more than a freckle of land in a seemingly endless sea.

The remoteness of those islands has protected a relatively simple way of life, in a seemingly picture-perfect tropical paradise: blue skies, crystalline waters, and turquoise palm trees giving way place for sandy beaches. But the devastating January 15 tsunami, caused by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano, caused catastrophic damage to three of them.

“The houses have been completely wiped out,” said Katie Greenwood, a spokeswoman for the Fiji Red Cross, of the three islands, Nomuka, Mango and Fonoifua. “It is heartbreaking and devastating for these remote island communities.”

As of Saturday, only three tsunami deaths have been confirmed in Tonga. Because disaster has ruined an undersea cable, communication has been limited, and the extent of the damage remains unclear.

However, Ms. Greenwood said Nomuka, Mango and Fonoifua were hit by waves nearly 50 feet high, compared with waves of just four feet on Tongatapu. On Mango, brown and ash-gray deposits now cover the entire island, and the settlement there, which once included a school and a simple red-roofed church, appears to have been washed away, an analysis shows. from the United Nations shows.

Only two houses remain on Fonoifua. And Nomuka, which is larger and has a population of 500, has great damage. It is by far the hardest hit of any of Tonga’s inhabited islands, many of which suffered only superficial damage and widespread ash.

The three islands are part of the Ha’apai group of fifty coral and volcanic islands, more than eight hours by ferry from Tongatapu. Mango is about 43 miles from the volcano.

The tsunami is believed to have killed one person on Mango and another in Nomuka, as well as a British woman in Tongatapu, who was swept away while trying to save her dogs. Dr. Yutaro Setoya, representative of the World Health Organization in Tonga, said that Tongan authorities had evacuated all residents of Mango to Nomuka, but people in Fonoifua chose to stay.

“We have deployed our emergency medical team to Nomuka,” he said by phone from Tongatapu. “According to what I heard from them, almost half of the housing was washed away, including the medical facility, so they set up a makeshift clinic in one of the churches.”

Dr Setoya said the archipelago is currently facing significant challenges. “Of course, there’s ash everywhere on Nomuka, because the wind blowing in that direction, has contaminated the water,” he said. “Drinking water and food are becoming an issue there.”

Koniseti Liutai, Vice President of the Australian Tonga Chamber of Commerce in Sydney, was among those waiting to hear from relatives in Ha’apai.

“It’s going to keep a lot of people coming back,” he said. “We know the entire island has been wiped out. People were struggling to make a living day by day, and now they need to try to rebuild a house.”

Lynne Dorning Sands, a former teacher traveled the world in a catamaran with her husband, Eric, visited Nomuka and Mango in 2016.

“It was really a special experience,” Dorning Sands, who said she was in the waters off the Philippines, said in a text message. She recalls the children coming to meet their boat in Nomuka, the pigs roaming the Mango and seeing whales every day.

Ms Dorning Sands said: ‘There was a period where we had whales around the boat. “We were very careful not to hit them, because they were everywhere!”

On Mango, where about 35 people lived before the tsunami, Dorning Sands visited the school: a single building, brightly decorated with student work and with a reading nook. There, she meets the school’s 13 students, ranging in age from 3 to 13, and the school’s only teacher, who introduces herself as John.

“When we asked if they had shops on the island, he said, ‘We have everything we need here. We don’t need a store. She speaks. “For anything else, they can go to another island.”

Mote Pahulu, who was born on Nomuka and raised on Mango, said New Zealand newspaper Newshub that the woman killed on Mango was married to one of his cousins.

“We are completely devastated. We have not only lost a loved one, a very close relative, but everything else on the small island is gone,” said Mr. Pahulu, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand. “It’s a beautiful little island, it’s a little paradise.”

Yan Zhuang contribution report.

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