The Red Cross says the Pacific Island of Tonga has been cut off from the rest of the world after an enormous volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami hit the country on Saturday.
All communication lines in the country have been disrupted with no timeframe given on restoration. The charity says it’s one of the worst volcanic eruptions the Pacific has experienced in decades with around 80,000 people affected.
The Bishop of Ripon, the Right Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is urging Christians to pray for Tonga and other Pacific Islands which are also suffering the devastating consequences of the eruption.
Tonga is part of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, where Rev Dr Hartley served as a bishop. In 2017, she and her husband Myles spent two weeks on the island, at the invitation of the then Archbishop of Polynesia, Most Rev Winston Halapua.
She’s been speaking to Premier about the situation.
“We have been unable to make contact with friends and former colleagues and nor have our friends in New Zealand, some of whom have family living in Tonga.
“It is a worrying and anxious time for this nation-state, already impacted by the climate crisis, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events.”
Bishop Helen-Ann says many of the island’s people are of strong Christian faith.
“People have an absolute commitment to their faith in God and that they share with probably the majority of Tongans. Methodism is particularly strong with the Tongan royal family affiliated very closely to the Methodist Church. All the denominations work very closely together and the Anglicans have a very strong presence on the island too. I just really remember that sense of joy and hospitality and vibrancy and energy and faith.
“Please pray for Tonga, for its people and communities in these coming days as further news emerges and aid is able to be sent to provide emergency assistance.”
In a statement to Premier, Katie Greenwood, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Pacific Head of Delegation, said:
“From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense- especially for outer lying Islands. We are trying hard to establish contact with our colleagues at Tonga Red Cross and establish the scale and specific nature of the support they need.
“Trained Tonga Red Cross teams will be on the ground supporting evacuations in coordination with public authorities, providing first aid if needed, and distributing prepositioned relief supplies.
“Red Cross currently has enough relief supplies in the country to support 1200 households with essential items such as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, shelter tool kits and hygiene kits.
“With communication channels disrupted one of the priorities for Tonga Red Cross will be to work with our Movement partner, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to restore family links which will help people from all over the world try and find out if their family and friends in Tonga are safe and well.”
It's reported that the explosion which triggered the tsunami was an event that only happens roughly every thousand years and was visible from space. It triggered an earthquake which registered a 7.4-magnitude.
Tonga is made up of 170 islands scattered over about 700,000 sq km, with the majority of people - around 100,000 - living on Tongatapu Island.