It has been a tense two days in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption near Tonga on Saturday, because an undersea cable that provides the island with all of its phone and internet service was severed, and communications with islanders have been slim to none.
Tongans in the Bay Area anxiously await word about relatives who live in the archipelago, unsure of the extent of the destruction wrought by a reported four-foot tsunami that inundated much of the area. As the Chronicle reports, the Bay Area is home to around 13,000 Tongans, many of them in San Mateo County — and this represents the biggest Tongan community in California.
Tina Puafisi, who has family on the main island in Tonga, tells the Chronicle that she’s incredibly scared, and that she and her husband had just spoken to their family in the hours before the eruption on Friday night. There was already a tsunami warning — something fairly common in Tonga — and they said that they were packing to move to higher ground.
And Bishop Nasili Puamau, the head of a Mormon congregation in Millbrae with around 100 Tongan congregants, tells the paper that everyone he knows is having trouble sleeping. “There’s a saying in Tongan: When one person suffers, everyone feels it,” Puamau says.
A Bay Area-based logistics company, S.F. Enterprises & Logistics, will be sending two ships to Tonga in the next couple of weeks — and the company regularly sends ships to Tonga from the Bay Area. They are collecting donations — primarily water, non-perishable food, medical supplies, and masks — to bring to the people in Tonga, and they welcome the public’s support. Donations can be brought by 4 p.m. Tuesday to 2525 Mandela Parkway Suite 1, near the Port of Oakland, to be loaded onto a ship that sets sail Friday. A second boat will leave Feb. 5, and the deadline for donations for that ship is Feb. 2. The office accepting the donations is open from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. only.
Tongans who live in the Bay Area say that it’s typical for them to ship goods to their families on the islands because of how expensive things are there.
Tonga is a nation of 104,000 people that has been largely cut off from the outside world since the pandemic began — choosing to keep the coronavirus out rather than maintain its tourist economy, which represents about 12% of the island’s overall economy.
There is reportedly a large cloud of sulfur dioxide over the archipelago that is choking out the sun and likely making breathing difficult without heavy masks, and volcanic ash has blanketed everything and contaminated water supplies. Clean water may, in fact, be the most urgent need.
The Tongan archipelago has been buffeted by major storms in recent years, but this may be its worst disaster in memory. As the New York Times reports, two people died and more than 170 homes were destroyed in the Category 5 Cyclone Gita in 2018, and again there was mass destruction caused by Cyclone Harold in 2020.