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Utahns still waiting to hear from loved ones in Tonga following volcanic eruption, tsunami

Posted at 9:26 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 23:29:49-05

SALT LAKE CITY — An underwater volcanic eruption near the Kingdom of Tonga on Saturday has left the country without means of communication.

According to information shared by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a social media group, “a near total communication blackout with Tonga remains. It is now thought that the Southern Cross Cable Network optic communications cable is damaged approximately 30 kilometres off shore, and news reports suggest that it will take a minimum of two weeks to repair.”

The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano eruption caused a tsunami on Tonga’s largest island of Tongatapu. Members of the Tongan community in Utah haven’t heard from loved ones since Friday (pre-volcanic eruption).

“I know that I talked to my brother Friday night, so I was at peace with that,” said Mele Pepa, who was born in Tonga but now calls Utah home. “Our thoughts are with our people; it’s hard, but there’s nothing much we can do from here but pray for our people, for their safety, and for what is going to happen after everything else.”

READ: Barriers preventing local groups from helping Tonga after volcano, tsunami

Pepa’s biggest concern is having clean water for the people of Tonga. According to LDS Church officials, no deaths have been reported and a thick layer of ash remains over the capital Nuku’alofa.

“A Tongan naval vessel left Nuku’alofa on Monday afternoon for the outer islands. Mission president for the Church’s Outer Islands Mission, President Sitiveni Fehoko, will travel with naval personnel on a second ship today. The Church has 135 missionaries in the Outer Islands Mission with whom contact has not yet been made,” said the church in an online update.

“I have my aunties and uncles there as well, so it’s been emotional,” said Rev. Tevita Uesi, a pastor at the First Tongan Christian Church in West Valley City. “To not be able to connect with them via like virtual, but we pray and continue to pray, and that’s our only source of connection is prayer.”

Uesi encourages people looking to help right now to wait until they learn more about what is needed. Both he and Pepa are just two of a very large Tongan population in the Salt Lake Valley who are waiting to hear from family on the islands of Tonga.

“We’re so hopeless because there’s nothing much we can do from here. We can’t send anything, we can’t send any help, there’s nothing much we can do but wait,” said Pepa.