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Outer Islands

Fonoifua people in good spirits after tsunami ordeal, arrive in Nuku'alofa

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Fonoi boat
After a 5-hours journey from Fonoifua, school children and their caregivers were in good spirits as they arrived in Nuku'alofa today, after the tsunami destroyed all but two homes on the island. Photo: Mary Lyn Fonua, 28 January 2022.

By Linny Folau

“We were lucky that it was daylight when the tsunami happened and we fled to higher grounds,” said ‘Aliki Moavuka (53) a resident on the outer island of Fonoifua, one of the worst affected by the natural disaster in the Ha’apai Group. 

‘Aliki, the Principal of the island’s Government of Primary School, said all 74 residents made it up to high ground and were safe overnight after  the volcanic eruption caused the tsunami on Saturday, Jan. 15.

Only two houses remain on Fonoifua and 16 homes were completely damaged.

Speaking to Matangi Tonga at the Fa Ua Wharf today, ‘Aliki was one of over 20 people who arrived on a small semi-open boat after a five hours trip from Fonoifua to the capital. They arrived after 1:00pm.

“We came to bring our children to the start of school and to get food supplies, water and other essentials to take back with us when we return to Fonoi next week,” he said.

Two other small boats from Fonoi were due to arrive with more of its residents later in the afternoon. They will stay with their families and relatives.

As they arrived on the small boat, despite the glaring heat of the sun the resilient community, including the youths, were in good spirits.

‘Aliki Moavuka
‘Aliki Moavuka, Principal Fonoi GPS. Jan. 28, 2022. Photo: Linny Folau.

‘Aliki said on the day of the natural disaster, he was at the back of their school compound chopping wood when he heard the explosion. 

“I then heard my family yelling out for me to come because they were scared,” he said. 

“The sound of the explosion’s tremor from the volcano was like it was happening right in the middle of the area where I was.”

He went to his house when the second explosion occurred. 

“We were scared so we got ourselves together and ran to town and others were also there,” he said.

‘Aliki said there is an area near their church where there is higher ground, which goes up about 60 metres above sea level.  

“We saw the first wave reach inland and we made our way up the small hill. It was after 5:30pm and we were already up there,” he said.

The 74 residents, which makes up 15 families, were all up on higher ground and safe.

Roaring waves

“At this time, I could hear the roaring of the waves then there was the ash fall.  Some of our boys aged 16-20s went down and got blankets and a roll of plastic to cover us because on this higher ground there was only one shelter, which only fit the children.

“The boys managed to get up stuff for the families to take shelter under,” he said. 

“We are so lucky that this natural disaster occurred during daytime and when we fled up it was still light. If the disaster occurred in the night we could have had injuries or other tragedies.”

Aliki said they went up the hill with water bottles because a defence boat came the day earlier with water supplies due to earlier ash fall.

“However, when we returned down on Sunday was saw the damages. Around 20 plus of our houses were destroyed/damaged and although the waves went into the classroom, the school remains standing as well as the church building,” he said.

Since the disaster he said the Fonoifua community had received assistance from government and the FWC church. The FWC President also donated two drums of petrol so they filled up three small boats coming today to bring their children, visit families and re-stock their supplies to return with next week.

Youth from devastated Fonoifua Is. arrive at Fa Ua Wharf today. Jan. 28, 2022.

Brave return

‘Aliki and his family are brave to return to the outer island. 

“Some families will make different decisions, some will decide to relocate to Tongatapu while others whose livelihoods are from fishing and weaving said they would remain on the island and with assistance they will build on higher grounds,” he said.

“We are happy to come to Nuku’alofa and we are happy to be alive. We have also cleaned up the school and we are all staying at the church for the time being,” he said. 

‘Aliki also thanked various stakeholders who have provided them with assistance.

Residents of Fonoifua arrive in Nuku'alofa today to get supplies and drop off students. Jan. 28, 2022.

Residents of Fonoifua arrive in Nuku'alofa today to get supplies and drop off students. Jan. 28, 2022.