19 May 2024

Anglicans launch appeal for ‘unprecedented’ Tonga disaster

A volcanic eruption has destroyed a small uninhabited island known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apa, causing damage to nearby Tonga. Picture: NASA

By Stephen Cauchi

21 January 2022

ANGLICANS have been urged to give generously to help Tonga recover after a volcanic eruption caused a tsunami to hit its islands. 

Anglican Overseas Aid has launched an appeal to raise money for after “unprecedented disaster” in the Pacific Island nation. 

Initial aid will go to replenish supplies the Tongan Anglican church had set aside in case of natural disaster. 

AOA’s disaster response and resilience co-ordinator Tim Hartley said the volcanic eruption had been a “double-whammy” for the island. 

“It’s the immediate catastrophic impact of the tsunami with some ongoing impacts of ash and acid rain and together they’re really going to be impacting the Tonga community’s livelihood for some time,” Mr Hartley said. 

“It’s unusual. We usually get cyclones (at Tonga) but it’s a double whammy of volcanic eruption and tsunami.” 

Australia’s Anglican Overseas Aid is working with Anglican Missions New Zealand in its response to the disaster.  

Both have strong connections with Tonga and the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia. 

Three deaths had been confirmed in the disaster as of Thursday. Mr Hartley said this was an amazingly low number given the damage to the island. But this toll is expected to rise. 

Mr Hartley said Tongans were very resilient, with many already “getting back to it” from the scattered reports AOA had received. 

He said in recent years Tonga had already been hit by cyclone Gita, while nearby Vanuatu had been affected by volcanic eruptions. 

Read more: ‘People’s hearts need to be touched’: Plan to engage new generation in aid

He said this meant the Anglican church in Tonga already had four shipping containers at the ready, full of supplies in case of a natural disaster.  

Mr Hartley said initial funding from AOA would support the replenishment of these containers, located at Anglican churches in Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital city. 

He said these existing supplied would likely be drawn down completely, so the AOA was fundraising to requisition extra supplies. 

They include supplies to address the need for water and shelter, containing chainsaws, shredders, portable generators, roofing nails and timber, tarpaulins, blankets, tools, building kits, water tanks and gutters. 

Contents of the supply containers at the Anglican church in Nuku’alofa. Picture: Supplied

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on 15 January led to ash falls and acid rain across Tonga as well as five to 10 metre tsunami waves that reached 500 metres inland. 

The eruption generated an ash plume 19.2 kilometres high.  

Both Tongan domestic and international communications systems were severed, after a submarine cable was damaged during the eruptions. 

Mr Hartley said acid rain and ash had damaged all of Tonga’s water sources, and there were long-term concerns about food security. 

He said 80 to 90 per cent of the population depended on agriculture and fishing, which the ash, acid rain and volcanic sulfur also threatened. 

Electricity and mobile phone networks have been re-established on the main island of Tongatapu, but communications with the outer islands are intermittent.  

The Tongan Navy has reported major damage in the Ha’apai Islands, where there is an Anglican presence. 

Mr Hartley said relief flights would bring in satellite phones to relieve the communications blackout.  

He said this would hopefully give a clearer picture of specific needs, as some islands had been hit more heavily than others. 

Mr Hartley said Tonga’s main port had unfortunately born the full force of the tsunami. 

“We anticipate some damage but also expect it to be a priority infrastructure repair,” he said. 

“They can still offload containers but just more slowly.” 

Donations to AOA’s Tongan emergency appeal can be made through at: anglicanoverseasaid.org.au/help-the-people-of-tonga/

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