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Prayers and hope for loved ones in Tonga

Tuesday 18 January 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Culture, National

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Prayers and hope for loved ones in Tonga
The Secretary General at Cook Islands Red Cross Society, Fine Tu'itupou-Arnold. PHOTO: MELINA ETCHES/22011706

Cook Islanders who are in the dark about their families and friends in the tsunami-hit Tonga are praying and hoping they are safe.

Tina Riki (nee Gideon) desperately waits for news of her daughter Makaia, since the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Friday.

Late on Friday night, Tina had heard “a big hollow like sound” from her unit in Muri.

“I had no idea what is was and thought nothing of it…” she said.

Until the next day on Saturday when her eldest son Jared called from London with the news of the volcanic eruption in Tonga. “I was shocked, I thought oh no…that’s what that big noise was.”

“I’m worried if Makaia’s okay, her partner and his family, and not being able to communicate with her is the hardest part, not being able to talk to her.

“It’s the not knowing - like everyone else who has family living in Tonga. I’ve been praying, and all I can do is wait for news of her.”

Tina Riki (nee Gideon) waits desperately for news of her daughter Makaia Riki in Tonga. PHOTO: MELINA ETCHES/22011705

According to ABC, it may take as much as two weeks to fully restore communications in Tonga. Some of the islands’ communications and power have now been restored, but the internet may be out for a while longer because of damage to an undersea cable.

Makaia and her partner Fa’a live in the village of Petani on the island of Eua. The couple had just completed building a small bungalow over the water.

Tina last spoke to her daughter on Wednesday last week.

“Makaia was in good spirits when we chatted and said that they had received warnings of a predicted tsunami and that if the volcano did erupt, they would have to evacuate. But she didn’t sound concerned, she had heard a few cracks during the night and the winds were strong, but she was fine and happy, she just loves living there,” said Tina.

“I’m grateful for the support I’ve had from friends and family here and overseas, a very sad time for Tonga.”

The secretary general of Cook Islands Red Cross Society, Fine Tu'itupou-Arnold who is Tongan said she is also waiting for news of her 79-year-old mother in Tonga.

From the latest reports that had come out from Tonga yesterday afternoon, Tu'itupou-Arnold was feeling a bit better and more confident that her mother would be fine.

But on Friday and Saturday she was “so worried”.

Her brother had spoken to their mother on Thursday and she was used to and aware of the evacuation procedures.

Tu'itupou-Arnold explained that because Tonga is so flat, they are used to having Tsunami warnings. “There are no mountains like here, there is just a high point; and I know people move when they’re told to.”

As of early yesterday afternoon she had been unable to make contact with Tonga Red Cross.

According to 1News reports, telecommunications infrastructure in Tonga have been severely damaged.

“We have satellite phones at the Tonga Red Cross, but it’s not working and no one has been able to get through, International Red Cross have been trying right throughout the weekend.

“International Red Cross hopes they can get through today (yesterday); it could be the ash clouds or the lightning from the eruption that has disturbed the satellite or there could be other reasons,” Tu'itupou-Arnold said.

For families who are trying to get in touch with loved ones, Red Cross has a system called Restoring Family Links. “If you are looking for family go online and register your family, Tonga Red Cross will pick it up.”

The Tonga National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) are working with Red Cross on the ground to do the initial damage assessment, Tu'itupou-Arnold added.

Tonga has three main island groups of Tongatapu, Ha'apai, and Vava'u. There are dozens of little islands around Ha'apai, and Vava'u that are inhabited. “I’m thinking of and worried for those people who live on those little islands,” she said.

Tu'itupou-Arnold added that the Tongan radio stations in New Zealand and Australia are now on air 24/7 with continuous prayers and hymns for Tonga.

“It’s really sad.”