The underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga on January 15 triggered tsunami waves, flooding, and falling rocks and ash from the sky, leaving thousands of residents—many of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—in a desperate situation, cut off from the outside world.
As of January 21, all members and missionaries have been contacted and are safe. President Sitiveni Fehoko of the Tonga Outer Islands Mission has been visiting the outer islands to assess needs and offer support.
“We are calmly, yet with urgency, working through different options to quickly get needed water and other needs into Tonga,” Elder Ian S. Ardern said, according to a Newsroom press release.
According to the Church’s New Zealand Newsroom, because communication and travel are still so limited, Church leader Elder Inoke Kupu only learned of the dire situation on the island of Ha’apai almost a full week after the disaster and asked the 15 stakes on Tongatapu to donate anything they could for the people there. Tons of food, clothes, bedding, fuel, and other supplies over the course of 48 hours, and a ship with Church leaders and stake volunteers set out for Ha’apai and the outer islands on Saturday.
The First Presidency recently sent a letter to members of the Church in Tonga. The letter reads:
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
How we love you! Your deep and abiding faith in our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, is known and admired the world over.
As you recover from the devastating volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami, and all else you have endured and are enduring, please know that your fellow Saints and other people of faith and goodwill around the world are praying for you. We are praying that the Lord will pour out blessings upon each of you, that your hearts may be calmed and strengthened, that your families and homes may be restored and refreshed, and that your communities may be peaceful and beautiful again.
We will stand with you over the coming months to assist you as you recover and rebuild with your usual faith in Christ, warm smiles, and neighborly love.
According to Newsroom, at the peak of the disaster, about 1,250 Tongan residents took refuge at Liahona High School, one of six Church schools on the island.
After a near total communication blackout with Tonga for several days, limited communication has been restored, but voice and data transmission are still very weak.
Water is currently the greatest need in the aftermath of the disaster, as 40% of the government-supplied tap water is not potable. Church leaders have been working with local government and other agencies in Tonga to bring water from the tanks at Liahona High School as well as food and other items to the outer islands.
Missionaries on Tongatapu are also engaged in the cleanup, assisting Church members and the wider community.
BBC reported that the island of Atata, where the population is less than 100 people, was marked as one of the areas of greatest concern—almost all of the homes on the island were destroyed when the volcano erupted. But one building was left standing in the middle of the island.
“Everyone on the island stayed in the church building and were safe, but every other building we understand was destroyed,” Church spokesman Richard Hunter told BBC.
You can read more and see the most recent updates on Newsroom (New Zealand).