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Church to send clean water, masks and satellite phones to Tonga following volcano eruption, tsunami


The Church is organizing an air cargo shipment of essential materials to send to Tonga as soon as conditions at the airport in Tonga allow, reported Pacific Newsroom on Jan. 19.

Reports of damage inflicted on the Pacific island nation have begun to roll in several days after an offshore volcanic eruption triggered a tsunami on Saturday, Jan. 15. Tonga includes 36 populated islands and roughly 60% of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church’s shipment will help provide clean drinking water, face masks to protect against volcanic ash inhalation, and satellite phones to help Church leaders and government officials expand communication. 

“With our combined faith and prayers, we will work our way through this issue and enjoy a bright future,” said Elder Ian S. Ardern, a General Authority Seventy and Pacific Area president. “Onward and forward we go.”

Early assessments for relief aid by Church leaders and other entities have been hampered by damaged communication lines. The Tongan government said on Tuesday night — after days of silence due to the communication disruption — that the eruption, flooding and ash clouds that followed have created an “unprecedented disaster.”

The statement reported three deaths from the tsunami, dozens of damaged homes, water supplies contaminated by volcanic ash, and flights and sea transport disrupted from damaged or ash-covered ports and runways.

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.

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.

Credit: Tanya White/Northern Advcate/NZME via Associated Press

A United Nations representative for the region told the BBC that while clearing the ash had proven more difficult than expected, it was hoped that flights might soon resume.

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.”

As of Jan. 19, all missionaries and members on the main island of Tonga, Tongatapu, have been accounted for but reports continue to come in from the outer islands where communication has not yet been reestablished.

No Latter-day Saint buildings have been structurally damaged, although they will require extensive cleaning from the ash that has blanketed the islands, including the capital, Nuku’alofa.

Pacific Newsroom reported on Jan. 18 that the Tonga Outer Islands Mission President Sitiveni Fehoko would travel on a naval vessel to check on missionaries. Thus far, all contacted have been confirmed safe but there are still some islands that have not been reached. 

Tongan Latter-day Saint leaders continue to evaluate individual and family needs and organize accommodation, food, water and other support.

The Church-owned Liahona High School campus as well as several Latter-day Saint meetinghouses and the Church’s camp site have served as shelter for hundreds.

Missionaries on Tongatapu are engaged in the clean-up efforts.

Church services Sunday, Jan. 23, will be home-based, and Latter-day Saints will be invited to fast and pray, to give thanks for the many lives that have been preserved and to plea for a return to normality.

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.

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.

Credit: NICT via Associated Press

The volcano’s dramatic eruption Saturday, Jan. 15, 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

With communications down, many family and friends around the world were left anxiously trying to get in touch with loved ones.

In a statement on Sunday, Jan. 16 (Monday, Jan. 17, in the Pacific), Elder Ardern 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.”

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.

Members looking to donate to help efforts in Tonga can contribute to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund.

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