Bangkok — When the giant Hunga Tonga Hunga Haapai volcano erupted on Saturday, Tonga people around the world were staring at live streaming images of ash, gas, and steam swelling clouds emerging from the deep sea.
The eruption cut a single fiber optic cable in Tonga, taking the entire Pacific Islands offline, unable to communicate with other parts of the world, and leaving loved ones afraid of what happened.
“It was absolutely crazy,” said Koniseti Riutai, a Tongan who lives in Australia.
“We were talking to family and relatives. They showed excitement about the activity of the volcano, so we could hear the explosion and the big bang, and everything went dark,” he said. “The next information we got was a tsunami warning and a tsunami invasion. We were all absolutely afraid of the worst.”
It wasn’t just family and friends who couldn’t get through. The giant ash cloud made backup communications by satellite phone nearly impossible, and world leaders could not even contact Tongan responders and know what they needed.
When the ash was gone, satellite communications improved and Tonga’s carrier Digicel said it was able to restore international calling services to some areas late Wednesday.
However, due to the large number of phones and the limited capacity of satellite links, people warned that they may need to go through repeatedly. This is what Liutai, Vice President of the Tonga Australian Chamber of Commerce, experienced.
“My first direct information was this morning,” he said Thursday. “My daughter contacted my aunt, mother’s sister after 100 phone calls day and night, and we shed tears of joy. It was 3 am, but we It was like noon to me; we were very excited and very happy. “
So far, three people have been confirmed dead after a volcanic eruption 40 miles (64 km) north of Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, followed by a tsunami. According to the Red Cross and official reports, some small settlements on remote islands have been wiped from the surface of the map, requiring the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
After some communications resumed, photographs of the destruction began to increase, indicating that the once lush islands had blackened the charcoal with a thick coating of volcanic ash.
The coastline is littered with debris, but people work to clean the streets and sidewalks.
The 0.78 inch (2 cm) layer of ash that made the runway at Hua Motu International Airport unusable has now been removed, and the first flight to carry freshwater and other aid arrived on Thursday.
A repair ship has been dispatched from Papua New Guinea to repair the submarine cable, but it will take time to reach Tonga, and the company in charge expects it to take more than a month.
Given that cables pass through volcanic areas, new volcanic activity can be completely destroyed, even on its timeline.
For Liutai, who runs a business in Tonga, he has been able to keep in touch by visiting regularly, but due to the restrictions on COVID-19’s pandemic travel, he is the same as many other Tongans living abroad. Now relies on video calls.
That possibility is now cut off, and at least in the near future, better telephone connections will be available to Tonga’s 106,000 residents to tell their friends and family what’s happening, at least in the near future. I want
“It’s something we’re used to, talking to each other and sharing information with the ease of use of social media,” said the 52-year-old. “But when something horrible happened, feared the worst, and even government statements were uninformed and general, we were all nervous shipwrecks.”