Church leaders continue to assess damage after underwater volcano near Tonga triggers tsunami waves, knocks out communication

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (NICT via AP) Credit: NICT via Associated Press
People look at a damaged boat in a marina at Tutukaka, New Zealand, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, after waves from a volcano eruption swept into the marina. An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion Saturday near the Pacific nation of Tonga, sending tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground. (Tanya White/Northern Advcate/NZME via AP) Credit: Tanya White/Northern Advcate/NZME via Associated Press
Flooding in Nuku’alofa after volcano eruption and tsunami in Tonga on Jan. 15, 2022. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Church leaders continue to assess damage after a volcano eruption on Saturday, Jan. 15, near the Pacific nation of Tonga caused tsunami warnings, flooding and thick ash to fall from the sky.

Missionaries serving in the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission are safe, according to Pacific Newsroom, but communication has not yet been made with missionaries in Tonga’s second mission, the Tonga Outer Island Mission.

The volcano’s dramatic eruption sent plumes of gas and ash expanding like a mushroom thousands of feet into the atmosphere, with a sonic boom being heard as far away as Alaska, according to The Associated Press.

A 4-foot tsunami crashed into Tonga’s capital of Nuku’alofa, sending people rushing to higher ground, reported the New York Times

Flooding in Nuku’alofa after volcano eruption and tsunami in Tonga on Jan. 15, 2022.
Flooding in Nuku’alofa after volcano and tsunami in Tonga on Jan. 15, 2022. | Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The eruption also cut the internet to Tonga, leaving family and friends around the world anxiously trying to get in touch with loved ones and making early assessments by Church leaders difficult.

In a statement on Sunday, Jan. 16 (Monday, Jan. 17, in the Pacific), Elder Ian S. Ardern, president of the Pacific Area, said: “We are praying earnestly for our brothers and sisters in Tonga, and for their loved ones across the world who are waiting for news. We are working with government and other officials in the region to identify urgent needs and how we can support efforts to alleviate suffering and help communities get back on their feet after this disaster. It is in times such as these that we are grateful for the generosity of members of the Church who donate to the Church humanitarian fund, for there will be a need of temporal assistance in Tonga.”

There had not yet been any official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, but authorities are still not yet in contact with some coastal areas and smaller islands.

Damage to homes, boats and shops along the coastline have been reported, and volcanic dust and ash continues to fall, contaminating water supplies. Elder Inoke Kupu, a local Area Seventy, told Pacific Newsroom, “There is only one color in Tonga right now, and that is a dark dust.”

The Church will help distribute some 50,000 masks originally donated to help during the pandemic but now to help prevent inhalation of volcanic dust. The Church will also support efforts to provide water to communities, as government authorities continue to make assessments.

Saturday’s eruption triggered tsunami warnings across the Pacific, including the west coast of the United States, but the threat began to recede by Sunday afternoon.

According to a report by the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, the volcano located about 40 miles north of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, began erupting in December, but by Jan. 3 the activity had decreased significantly.

The volcano had erupted in 2014, spawning a new island that eventually became home to blossoming vegetation and barn owls, according to the BBC.

The Church has roughly 60,000 members in 174 congregations in Tonga. A temple is located in Nuku’alofa with a second temple under construction on the island of Vava’u.

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