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Emergencies

We're back, but without full internet

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

By Pesi and Mary Lyn Fonua

Tsunami hits Patangata reef
Tsunami waves breaking at high speed along the Nuku'alofa reef near the Patangata settlement, filmed on a cell phone from the second storey at Matangi Tonga Office. Photo still, by Mary Lyn Fonua. 15 January 2022,

We are emotional. One week after the catastrophic Hunga explosion and multiple tsunamis in Tonga, we have a chance to let you, our readers, know that we at Matangi Tonga are fine. You may have seen reports coming out of Tonga by satellite phone and through a few people who have full internet access.

We and our staff are fine, thank you. Our office and place of residence on the Nuku'alofa seafront survived the tsunami waves. Not everyone was so lucky and many families have lost their homes. We will bring you their stories and our reports  of this disaster as soon as we can.

Sopu family
Salomi struggles to control her emotion as she returns to the wreckage of her Sopu seafront home, with Esther, 'Aivi and Daniel. “I feel so bad but thank god, we got life, my family's alive,” she said. Ten or 12 people lived here. Nuku'alofa, Jan. 16, 2022. Still from video by Mary Lyn Fonua.

This is a traumatic time for everyone in Tonga and also for our families overseas who are anxious for news. We are disrupted from our normal activities.

Our communications were knocked out along with our mains power.

We've received many incoming emails yesterday, Friday Jan. 21, but our email responses are not going out. We are receiving text messages but our text messages are not going out.

Slowly, bit by bit services are being restored. We do not have full internet in our office. We are able to upload today thanks to a service provider, sharing a limited satellite link.

We have been working on our news coverage for the last week and, hopefully soon,the government owned TCC service, will be able to restore full internet communications

We want to share stories about the impact of this disaster on Tonga.

Nuku'alofa boat harbour after tsunamis
The day after the Hunga eruption and tsunamis, a boat rests on the wharf at the Nuku'alofa boat harbour, whole flotsam clogs the harbour. A large part of Nuku'alofa's small fishing fleet was destroyed. Nuku'alofa, Jan.16, 2022. Photo: Mary Lyn Fonua / Matangi Tonga.

Picking up from our last report on Matangi Tonga:

By the way, the amazing photo taken by Tonga's geologist Taaniela Kula, that we published on Jan. 14 (Friday) was not the Big Blast, but merely a throat-clearing at the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano - 65km from where we are located. The big blast happened after 5:00pm on Saturday, about 24 hours after that photo was taken.

This is our first post since then.

We were stuck in the seafront office as the many tsunamis came in - too late to get out. We captured what video and images we could of the approaching tsunami waves, fearful, not knowing how high they might rise above the reef. Fortunately, our staff were off for the weekend and with their families. The event is etched in our memories.

Ha'atafu Tonga tsunami
Painstaking search and rescue operation at Ha'atafu on Sunday Jan. 16, behind the area where missing British national Angela Glover was last seen alive. Road workers remove huge fallen trees blocking the road to Ha'atafu Beach. Jan. 16, 2022. Photo: Pesi Fonua / Matangi Tonga.

Senior reporter Linny Folau was awe inspired by the pumice rain and darkening of the sun as she fled Nuku'alofa.

Photo journalist Eleanor Gee learned the wave was coming and ran to her car. She found herself stuck in traffic, three rows deep, along Tau'afahau Road, the skies darkened and the ashfall became so heavy she couldn't see and eventually pulled off the road to spend much of the night in her car, with a carton of milk.

Matangi Tonga sales and marketing representative, Irene Mafi, packed six members of her family into her 4-wheel drive and was making a dash for the high evacuation point at the New Zealand High Commission. Driving down a side road toward the sea, she saw a huge wave come over the top of Vuna Road, straight ahead of her. There was no turning back, so she put her foot down and accelerated into the wave, which came over the bonnet of the car. Her family was screaming. Irene kept going, blowing out two tyres on the rocks and debris hidden in the water, but made it up onto the seafront Vuna Road, running on wheel hubs, until 60 seconds later Irene, her mother and siblings, reached safety, before the next wave smashed onto the seafront. Around 80 people found refuge in the NZ compound.

Many in Tongatapu have remarkable stories to tell.

We are so sorry that expatriate Tongans and their friends have been through so much anguish caused by a terrible lack of back up satellite communications* for Tonga after the fibre optic cable was severed in this disaster. 

Tonga tsunamis
Tsunami waves hit the reef and sea swimming pool at Touliki, Nuku'alofa on Jan. 15. Photo: Mary Lyn Fonua / Matangi Tonga.

* Footnote: (A local partner of a k-band satellite provider was ready to release satellite internet services but was not granted a spectrum licence. A commercial dispute and court case with government and K band provider Kacific is involved. Cabinet Minister Poasi Tei briefly commented on the dispute during the second government briefing yesterday, Friday).

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While we are endeavouring to maintain our free daily independent news service on Matangi Tonga Online www.matangitonga.to, please remember that we are a very small news organisation with a team of five. (We serve nearly 3 million page views annually to readers in Tonga and around the world). Our news remains free to view for three days before it goes into our archives, containing nearly 40 years of news coverage in Tonga). When you purchase a premium content subscription, it helps us to bring more independent content to you.

Comments

Fantastic to have you back online Matangitonga, even better that your team is safe and well. As an independent news provider it's critical that we support your business during these difficult times.

Looking forward to your stories of the tsunami and it's ongoing effects in the coming days.

Stay safe.