On January 15, an underwater volcanic eruption led to a devastating tsunami to hit the island nation of Tonga. Even now, one month later, significant aid and resources are still being provided from outside organizations and nations to sustain life for many Tongan residents. Families and communities are continuing clean-up and rebuilding efforts and communication from island to island is still intermittent and spotty.
The volcanic eruption and tsunami led to four deaths and 18 injuries, but amid the tragedy, Newsroom reports that many Latter-day Saint missionaries have been able to serve and in some cases, save lives.
Carrying others to safety on Kotu
When President Sitiveni Fehoko, president of Tonga’s Outer Islands Mission, heard about the volcano, he knew a dangerous tsunami would soon follow. President Fehoko called each group of missionaries on the islands closest to the volcano to warn them and tell them to head to the highest ground they could find as soon as possible.
Elder Malakai Ika and Elder Richard Tu’l’onetoa were in their apartment on Kotu when they received their call from the mission president. They were just 55 miles from the volcano’s eruption.
The elders started running and called out to everyone they saw to head up the hill. Elder Ika recognized a father and two young children trying to hurry up the hill, so he grabbed the children and carried them to the top. Elder Tu’l’onetoa heard someone cry out and found an elderly woman struggling to push her walker up the hill. He picked her up and started racing up the hill.
As Elder Tu’l’onetoa grew closer to the hilltop, he saw a huge wave heading towards them and was sure they would be swept away. Suddenly, the wave turned a different direction and didn’t even touch them.
When he got to the top of the island, Elder Tu’l’onetoa stopped to realize how light the elderly woman had been, how it had felt like carrying a baby. Both missionaries stayed and helped other men bring even more residents to the top of the hill.
The Tongan Navy later estimated that the tsunami wave that hit Kotu was over 50 feet high.
Read a second story about missionaries saving residents from drowning and debris on Nomuka Island on the Church’s Pacific Newsroom.
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