Ilaisaane, 80 years old “Funaki” Malafu from Kihei is mourning the loss of two family members in Tonga when she learned of their deaths in the tsunami that hit Tonga’s small outer islands hard last month.
Gone is a niece who resided on Nomuka and a first cousin, a man, who lived on Mango, said James Malafu, who translated over the phone to his mother, who cried upon hearing the news.
Media reports said three people were killed in the tsunami, two Tongan residents, identified as Lataimaumi Lauaki from Nomuka and Telai Tutuila, and a Briton, Angela Glover. Tutuila made sure his family got to safety before he died in the tsunami, Funaki Malafu’s daughter Ana Malafu-Eliesa said.
“She wants to go really badly to see the family” James Malafu said, noting that this mother normally returns home every year, but due to the pandemic she has not been back for about two years.
“It’s a bit sad for her, what happened to the family,” he added.
Funaki Malafu was born and raised on Nomuka, a rural island that depends on crops such as taro and sweet potato as well as pigs and fish to feed their families, said James Malafu, who has also visited the island. accessible by boat.
Media reported that all houses in Mango were destroyed by the tsunami and Nomuka Island suffered extensive damage.
Even though the underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami occurred on January 15, the Tongan community of Maui only recently learned of the fate of family and friends in the Pacific nation, made up of more than 100 islands. .
Since the eruption and tsunami, communications have been difficult, as events have damaged the only fiber optic undersea cable that connects the kingdom to the rest of the world.
The loss of cable leaves most Tongans without internet and unable to make phone calls overseas.
Leka Anitema and her husband, Henry, from Wailuku, have heard from some parents but not others.
Last week, Leka Anitema had yet to hear from her father, but her brother heard that their father was fine.
She said her father’s family live just across the beach on the main island of Tongatapu, but when the waves came they were luckily in a farming area a little further inland and on higher ground than their house.
Anitema said that in a video posted by her father, he was in the farming area in a car and she could hear the “Volcanic pellets are falling like rain and the midday sky is darkening by the minute.”
As days passed without knowing what had happened to her father and his family, she described it as “a waiting game in a modern world where we hardly ever have to wait for anything anymore.
“In this case, we’re not waiting for our drive-thru or Amazon parcel to arrive – we’re waiting for assurances that our loved ones across the sea, who are already living difficult lives, are okay. “, she said.
Her husband, Henry, got an answer from his 62-year-old mother after about five days of waiting.
So far his family is doing well in Tongatapu, but the main challenge is drinking water, which may be contaminated from the eruption. He said the Tongan government was doing its best to test most of the water to ensure it was safe to drink.
Leka Anitema said her mother-in-law rationed her water and also swept volcanic ash around her house earlier this month, but then came back inside when breathing became too difficult.
There were nervous moments for the family, as Henry Anitema recalls talking to his mother as the volcano erupted last month. He thought he heard “Thunder in the Background” and “huge noises.”
“Do you have a storm? » he remembered asking.
His mother became emotional.
“No, it’s not thunder, it’s the eruption of the volcano,” she said.
His mother also asked the family for prayers.
“She just asked me and my family to keep them in mind with our prayers,” he called back.
His mother told him that other family members were evacuating. She did not evacuate and stayed home, but was fine after the incident.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and China have provided assistance, although Tonga went into quarantine on Wednesday after discovering coronavirus infections in two port workers helping to distribute the help, reported the Associated Press.
Last week, it was reported that nearly two dozen sailors on an Australian military vessel going to deliver aid to Tonga had tested positive for COVID-19. No crew members left the ship and the supplies were brought ashore by crane, according to media reports.
Regarding the smaller islands affected by the eruption and tsunami, James Malafu said those people were allowed to relocate to the main island of Tonga, which some of his mother’s family members did.
James Malafu, pastor of the Free Church of Tonga, said members were working together to send donations to the island nation.
Others around Hawaii also plan to help raise funds for those affected by the volcanic eruption and tsunami. the “Aloha4Tonga” The fundraiser will air on Hawaii News Now/K5 at 7 p.m. March 4, with all proceeds going directly to relief efforts. The effort was put together by Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu and Hawaiian artists Mele Apana, Shannon Scott, Lina Langi and Billy V, in partnership with the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and the Tonga Consular Agency in Honolulu.
The council’s website at hawaiiancouncil.org/aloha4tonga will serve as the landing page for donations, which will then go to the consular agency for distribution to the people of Tonga.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]