Volcano Eruption and Tsunami in Tonga

Volcano Eruption and Tsunami in Tonga

On January 15, 2022, the massive underwater Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted among the islands of Tonga in the south Pacific. The explosion created tsunami waves and a towering plume of ash that enveloped Tonga and spread west toward Australia and New Zealand and east toward the Americas.

Communication with Tonga remains minimal and humanitarian needs are still being determined, but extensive damage has been reported. Although the tsunami impacted neighboring Pacific nations some, there is also concern throughout the region about additional eruptions and ongoing risks from ash fallout and acid rain.

Rev. James Bhagwan, the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, a Global Ministries partner based in Fiji, provided an initial assessment of the situation in a letter to partners, below. Derek Duncan, Area Executive for East Asia and the Pacific explained that “while Global Ministries does not have direct partnerships in Tonga, we have close relationships with churches and communities throughout the Pacific region. Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Tonga,” he continued, “and we will remain in touch with Pacific partners to respond and assist as needs emerge.” We will continue to update this page with information and opportunities to provide assistance as they become available.

From Rev. James Bhagwan:

We in Fiji are just coming out from a near miss with Tropical Cyclone Cody last weekend with ongoing Omicron cases, and this past weekend our sisters and brothers in Tonga have been affected by the massive eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano. Fiji and many other Pacific islands and Pacific Rim countries were affected by the tsunami and tidal surges that followed the eruption. 

The current situation is unclear as most outside communication is disrupted and only satellite phone is accessible (to a few). We are trying to contact the PCC Moderator / Free Wesleyan Church President, Rev. Dr. Tevita Havea and Tongan National Council of Churches General Secretary Rev. Ikani Tolu and others and will inform you once we hear from them. 

In a statement shared on social media, ther Speaker of the House in the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, Lord Fakafanua wrote:

On January 15, 2022, following an unprecedented volcanic eruption, a devastating tsunami struck the Kingdom of Tonga. Many areas were also affected by substantial volcanic ashfall. 

Communications remain down and the full extent of the harm to lives and property is currently unknown. What we do know is that Tonga needs immediate assistance to provide its citizens with fresh drinking water and food. 

More details on Tonga’s official disaster relief fund will be announced shortly so that those looking to help can contribute directly to Tonga’s relief efforts. 

To ensure the help kindly offered reaches those in need, we must ensure relief funds are verified, transparent and legitimate, please keep the people of Tonga in your prayers, and may God bless you.

The New Zealand and  Australian Governments are preparing immediate relief support and this morning a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft left RNZAF Base Auckland today at about 0820hrs. The crew’s plans were to fly first over the Ha’apai group of islands, and then fly over Tongatapu to check the status of the runway and port. The aircraft is not landing in Tonga and is scheduled to arrive back at RNZAF Base Auckland this evening.

So far, New Zealand has not had a formal request from the Kingdom of Tonga to provide further support, apart from this initial reconnaissance flight but, remain ready to respond if asked to do so. The NZDF has a RNZAF C-130H(NZ) Hercules on standby to fly to Tonga tomorrow to deliver aid supplies if it is safe to land at the runway on Tongatapu. We have placed personnel on shortened notices to move and Royal New Zealand Navy ships are being readied for deployment and may deploy ahead of a formal request for assistance, given the distance to Tonga. Further military flights are also possible, to transport relief supplies and personnel as required. 

For PCC, once we are able to connect with our Moderator and TNCC GS we will update you all. 

In the meantime please continue to pray for Tonga and our Pacific Household of God in these challenging times of activity in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Cyclone Season, COVID-19, all continuing to be exacerbated by climate change. 

God’s blessings be with you and your families.