Utahns can’t reach family members in Tonga after volcanic eruption, tsunamis

Jan 15, 2022, 10:40 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 4:28 pm

WEST JORDAN, Utah — A volcanic eruption almost 6,000 miles away is being felt by thousands of Utahns who have close personal ties to the communities hit hardest by volcanic ash and tsunamis.

Senituli Penitani explained he began hearing of trouble in his home country of Tonga Friday night. Tonga is just under a day ahead in time, so it was Saturday their time when his friends and family began posting photos, videos and status updates about hearing explosions and experiencing surges along the coastline.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano unleashed ash and chaos into the ocean and sky, affecting the islands closest to it, including the main island of Tongatapu, where the Polynesian country’s capital city of Nuku’alofa is located.

Volcano erupts in Pacific, West Coast under tsunami advisory

One Facebook Live video that Seni played on his phone shows the water receding away from the beach. Seni’s friend narrates in Tongan what he’s seeing. Large pops are heard in the background that sound like fireworks.

“He’s saying it’s like low tide, the seas,” Seni translated from the video.

A few moments later, a small tsunami rushes toward the man and bursts past the beach, overtaking a nearby road and sweeping up large objects.

It’s the last video Seni said he’s seen posted from his home island of Nomuka, where his three sisters live, along with some of his nieces and nephews.

Nomuka, which is only a few square miles in size, sits northeast of the volcanic eruption, and Seni said it’s even closer to the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano than Tongatapu.

Seni has not been able to reach his family, but he was able to message with a friend Friday night, who lives on the main island.

“He said… the scariest noise you can ever imagine,” Seni said while reading his friend’s message. “They saw the eruption, and now it’s like rain with black stones.”

His friend continued that the sky went dark. Pictures friends sent to Seni’s wife, whose sister lives on Tongatapu, show black ash coating the ground and everything in sight.

On Saturday — which was Sunday in Tonga — Seni heard nothing.

He said family members in Australia and New Zealand couldn’t reach anyone, either.

Seni described how he knows the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai island well because the only way to reach Nomuka is via a five-hour ferry from Tongatapu.

“It’s almost in between my island and the main island,” he said of the volcanic island. “And when we take the boat, we go to the main island — it’s one of the landmarks.”

Those who know Seni have been reaching out for updates.

“So many people are asking what’s going on. Some of my friends — ‘Are your family doing okay?'” he said.

Seni is hopeful he’ll have an answer soon, and that it’ll be good news.

He’s staying optimistic.

“I hope, yeah,” he sad. “Hopefully there will be some form of communication as soon as possible.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Want to rent out your home for the NBA All-Star weekend? Here’s what you need to know

No question local businesses and hotel operators are excited about all the money the NBA All-Star game will bring in. But as Matt Gephardt found, regular Joe's are also capitalizing — and maybe you can, too.
1 day ago
Chopper 5 flies over the site of a new golf course by Tiger Woods set to open near Heber and Park C...
Alex Cabrero

New golf course designed by Tiger Woods set to open in 2025 near Heber City, Park City

A new golf course set to come to the Park City area is being designed by Tiger Woods. While it may be exciting, it has a lot of people wondering about the water it will take to run it.
1 day ago
Shelby Lofton

Utah lawmakers discussing multiple domestic violence bills to protect victims

A domestic violence amendment bill — SB117 — has made it one step closer to reaching the governor's desk.
1 day ago
Pat Reavy

Utah sex offender charged with kidnapping teen girl from Arizona he met on TikTok

A West Valley man previously convicted of sexually extorting a teen girl is now charged with driving to Arizona to take a different teen girl back to his home in Utah where he sexually assaulted her.
1 day ago
(North View Fire District)...
Madison Swenson

Cars crash into Utah building and residence in separate incidents

Two buildings in Pleasant View were damaged Tuesday after cars crashed into them.
1 day ago
Shara Park

Raise the Future chosen as Team Giannis’ beneficiary for NBA All-Star Game

As the NBA All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City approaches, several local charities have been chosen as beneficiaries, including Raise the Future, KSL TV’s Wednesday's Child partner.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Utahns can’t reach family members in Tonga after volcanic eruption, tsunamis