WORLD NEWS

Cut off by volcano, Tongans relieved as contact restored

Jan 20, 2022, 5:35 AM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:41 pm
In this photo provided by the Australian Defence Force, the Tongan Foreign Minister, Fekitamoeloa '...
In this photo provided by the Australian Defence Force, the Tongan Foreign Minister, Fekitamoeloa 'Utoikamanu, right, and the Australian High Commissioner to Tonga, Rachael Moore, watch the arrival of the first Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster III aircraft at Fua'amotu International Airport near Nukuʻalofa, Tonga, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga were finally able to land after the Pacific nation's main airport runway was cleared of ash left by a huge volcanic eruption. (Australian Defence Force)
(Australian Defence Force)

BANGKOK (AP) — As the massive undersea Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday, Tongans from around the world gazed on as their relatives livestreamed images of billowing clouds of ash, gas and steam emerging from beneath the depths.

Then darkness.

The eruption severed Tonga’s single fiber-optic cable, rendering the entire Pacific archipelago offline and unable to communicate with the rest of the world — and leaving their loved ones terrified about what might have happened.

“It was absolutely crazy,” said Koniseti Liutai, a Tongan who lives in Australia.

“We were talking with family and relatives, because they were excitedly showing us the volcano’s activities, then we heard the explosion and the big bang and everything went dark,” he said. “Then the next information we got was the tsunami warning and then the tsunami hitting; we were all absolutely fearing the worst.”

It wasn’t only family and friends who could not get through. Huge ash clouds made backup communication by satellite phone next to impossible, and world leaders were not even able to get in touch with their Tongan counterparts to see what help they needed.

Pleasant Grove business owner among those collecting goods and supplies for Tonga

As the ash cleared, satellite communication improved and Tonga’s telecoms operator, Digicel, said it had been able to restore international call services to some areas late Wednesday.

It cautioned, however, that due to the high number of calls and the limited capacity of its satellite link that people may need to try repeatedly to get through — something experienced by Liutai, who is deputy president of the Tonga Australia Chamber of Commerce.

“My first direct information was this morning,” he said Thursday. “My daughter, after 100 phone calls during the day and night, got through to my aunties, my mum’s sisters, and we were in tears of joy — it was three in the morning, but for us it was like the middle of the day; we were so pumped and so happy.”

So far, three people have been confirmed killed after the volcanic eruption 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and the tsunami that followed. Several small settlements in outlying islands were wiped off the face of the map, according to the Red Cross and official reports, necessitating the evacuation of several hundred residents.

With the resumption of some communications, more photos have begun to emerge of the destruction, showing the once-verdant islands turned a charcoal black by a thick coating of volcanic dust.

Coastlines are strewn with debris, while people work to clean streets and walkways.

The 2-centimeter (0.78 inch) layer of ash that rendered the runway at Fua’amotu International Airport unusable has now been cleared, and the first flights carrying fresh water and other aid arrived Thursday.

A repair ship is being sent from Papua New Guinea to work on the undersea cable, but it will take some time to get to Tonga and the company in charge estimates it could take longer than a month to repair the line.

Given that the cable runs right through the volcanic zone, any new volcanic activity could completely scupper even that timeline.

For Liutai, who runs a business in Tonga, regular visits had allowed him to stay in close touch in the past, but with COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, he has come to rely on video calls like many other Tongans living abroad.

With that possibility now cut off, at least for the near future, he’s hoping at least better telephone connections will soon be available so that the 106,000 residents of Tonga can better reach the outside world to tell their friends and family what’s going on.

“It’s something we’ve become so used to, talking to each other and sharing information with the ease of social media,” the 52-year-old said. “But when something scary has happened and you fear the worst, and even the government statement was general with no information, we were all nervous wrecks.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

World News

An Egyptian archeologist speaks at a recently discovered tomb dated to the Old Kingdom, 2700–2200...
MOHAMED WAGDY

Egypt unveils tombs and sarcophagus in new excavation

Egypt on Thursday unveiled dozens of new archaeological discoveries, including two ancient tombs, at a Pharaonic necropolis just outside of the capital Cairo.
7 days ago
A Yanomami youth carries a toddler on his shoulders at the Saude Indigenous House, a center respons...
Eleoneore Hughes and Edmar Barros, Associated Press

Why Brazil’s Yanomami are being decimated by disease, mining

Severe malnutrition and disease, particularly malaria, are decimating the Yanomami population in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and on Jan. 20 the federal government declared a public health emergency.
7 days ago
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, tours a neighborhood in Kharkiv ...
Hanna Arhirova, Associated Press

Russian attacks on Ukraine reported; tank training to start

Ukrainian officials say Russia has launched a new wave of missile and self-exploding drone attacks on the country.
8 days ago
woman leans off skyscraper for video content...
Larry D. Curtis

Sundance: ‘Fantastic Machine’ entertains while examining relationship between humans and camera

While the Utah's political leaders grapple with laws to combat the dangers of social media, Utah's Sundance Film Festival premiered "Fantastic Machine," turning the camera lens not only the camera but what it has meant to humans — spoiler: it has drastically changed us.
9 days ago
U.S. M1/A1 Abrams tanks...
TARA COPP and LOLITA BALDOR Associated Press

Why the US flipped on sending tanks to Ukraine

For months, U.S. officials balked at sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, insisting they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair.
9 days ago
This diagram made available by NASA shows the estimated trajectory of asteroid 2023 BU, in red, aff...
Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer

Asteroid coming exceedingly close to Earth, but will miss

An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest encounters ever recorded.
9 days 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.
Cut off by volcano, Tongans relieved as contact restored