St Mary's Cathedral in Tonga at a commemoration service for the first anniversary of the devastating Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcanic eruption which took place on 15 January 2022. Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver/23011507
Churches across Tonga have commemorated the victims and the struggles endured as a result of the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on 15 January, 2022.
eruption, the largest atmospheric explosion recorded during modern history, was
estimated to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bomb that
destroyed Hiroshima. It generated a huge sonic boom that could be heard as far
away as Alaska - more than 9000km away.
packed the Cathedral of St Mary in Nuku'alofa - one of the largest churches in
Tonga - where sermons were delivered, commending Tongans for showing resilience
over the last year.
the different churches are commemorating,” said Monsignor Vicar Lutoviko who
overlooked the service at the cathedral.
coming together to thank god, and to encourage one another,” he added.
to the various people on the radio across this week, there's been a lot of
conviction from people that January 15th was a miracle.”
conviction that is shared by Lutoviko himself. The cathedral he oversees sits
less than 100m away from Nuku'alofa's waterfront. Remarkably, the church
suffered little damage, thanks in part to a reef system entrenching
Nuku'alofa's bay area.
was with parishioners cleaning up this place, preparing for the liturgy on
Sunday … all of a sudden I heard the big bang. We took off right away because
we knew there would be a tsunami … I took my family and went to higher ground.
couldn't sleep that night because I wanted to know what happened to the
cathedral because it (was) so close to the seafront. When I drove around to the
seafront the next day … the seawater flooded the area of the cathedral, but
there was none inside the cathedral … the only damage to the building was from
the ashfall which ... covered it,” Lutoviko said.
people died as a result of the eruption, a remarkably low number of deaths
considering the magnitude of the disaster. Thousands of Tongans were left
homeless as a result, and livelihoods destroyed.
myself, today marks history,” said Kilistiana Moala, a member of the
alive today, I'm just glad to be still here.”
many Tongans, the commemorations did not just pay tribute to Tonga’s survival
of the eruption. Less than a month afterwards, the Covid-19 pandemic reached
Tonga, resulting in the deaths of at least a dozen people and leaving thousands
was a very tough year,” Moala said. “I worked with Tonga's Geological Services,
so we did a lot of work in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption.
the volcanic eruption we had to work during lockdowns because of the Covid
outbreak … it was really hard because we couldn't be with our families whenever
a sentiment shared by Tonga's Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni Hu'akavameiliku,
who came into power just days before the eruption. Three months later he fell
ill to Covid-19.
the Lord that we are still here,” Hu'akavemeiliku told RNZ Pacific.
“Moving into a new year, hopefully things will continue to get better.