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Church Responds to Tsunami Waves in Tonga

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An undersea volcanic eruption near the Kingdom of Tonga Saturday afternoon (January 15) triggered tsunami waves, flooding, and ash in the sky. Communication lines are down and further updates will follow as they come to hand.

Elder Ian S. Ardern, Pacific Area President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said on January 17, “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 the 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.”

Church leaders in Tonga are not aware of any loss of life on Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island. Reports from outer islands are still being sought but communication lines being down and rough seas are hampering efforts, although the Tongan Navy has now been able to put to sea to gather further information.

Missionaries serving in the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission are safe. Due to communication channels being down to outer islands, no contact has been made, to this point, with missionaries in Tonga’s second mission, the Tonga Outer Island Mission.

There is significant water damage to foreshore homes and businesses on Tongatapu. There is phone communication on Tongatapu but not internationally or between the Islands of Tonga. The International phone lines are not functioning due to what is suspected to be issues with the underwater communication cable.

The New Zealand Government reported on the weekend that it plans to send a surveillance flight on Monday, circumstances permitting. At the moment, volcanic ash is preventing flights.

Ash has stopped falling as of early Sunday afternoon (Tonga time) but has left a film of black volcanic ash across the Island. In the words of local Church leader, Elder Inoke Kupu, “There is only one colour in Tonga right now, and that is a dark dust.”

The Church will assist in the distribution of 50,000 donated masks, already in Tonga, sent previously for pandemic purposes. The masks are being distributed to prevent the inhaling of volcanic dust.

Church leaders continue to liaise with government officials so the Church can support humanitarian efforts in the coming days and weeks.

Drinking water is the immediate need. The Church will support the provision of water to communities, as needed, as assessments by government authorities continue.

The Church’s Liahona High School and some Latter-day Saint chapels are in use by those evacuated from coastal areas.

The Church has an emergency supplies container in Tonga which is being used. More updates will be provided as they become available.

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