Following volcanic eruption, Tonga grappling with toxic ash

By January 25, 2022

Tonga (MNN) — Toxic ash and tsunami damage are what’s left of the volcanic eruption over a week ago in Tonga. It was one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions in three decades.

Ash from the volcano has settled in thick layers over the Tongan islands — as deep as three inches in some places. The blast also damaged power lines and cables. Communication on the islands has been hampered.

The volcano also caused a massive tsunami wave which hit the main island Tongatapu and other coastlines. Several other countries had tsunami alerts.

(Photo courtesy of Tonga Christian Radio)

Tonga is a nation of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Among the 169 islands in the Tonga chain, 36 are inhabited with a total population of just over 100,000 people.

Mission Aviation Fellowship New Zealand got us in touch with contacts at Tonga Christian Radio (TCR). We spoke with Andrew Marriott, the Executive Director of the Missionary Ventures New Zealand office (known as MotiVate in NZ).

Marriott was able to share the report from TCR’s station manager Willy Florian who saw it all happen.

“Willy reported to me that as they were watching the dust cloud rising into the air, they were hearing explosions that sounded like gunshots. He said the noise was so loud that people were on their knees. They were covering their ears because of the power of the explosion.

Marriott adds, “Would you believe, even friends of mine in New Zealand were emailing me saying that they were out in a quiet location around New Zealand and they could even hear the explosions here, almost 3,000 kilometers away. That gives you some impression of the sheer power of the volcanic eruption.”

(Photo courtesy of Tonga Christian Radio)

So far, only three deaths have been reported from the volcano and tsunami. However, Marriott says, “I think it’s expected that there could be more fatalities reported as the survey teams are able to go out to some of the islands.”

If you were to visit Tonga today, you would see everybody outside in masks — not because of Covid-19, but because of the toxic ash in the air.

“There’s a desperate rush to get the dust off the roofs of the buildings, including our radio station because that dust can actually settle like a form of concrete onto the roof and is extremely hard to remove later,” Marriott says.

“The other major issue for the people is that they are running very short of water. One of our Navy boats arrived yesterday with 250,000 liters of water and a desalination plant that can produce 70,000 liters of water every day. That will be distributed and prioritized to those islands as well as Tongatapu that need it the most. Water is getting in, but of course, we’re going to need constant supplies. The Australian and New Zealand Air Force and Navy are looking to make regular runs of relief aid.”

Willy Florian, station manager for Tonga Christian Radio. (Photo courtesy of Tonga Christian Radio)

Amidst tragedy, TCR is working tirelessly to continue broadcasting Christ’s hope and encouragement across the islands.

Over the last two years, TCR worked to establish a new radio station building. By God’s grace, the building was completed this past Christmas and they sent out their first broadcast from the new station. The new building is stronger and has held up well under the weight of the ash.

“We do want to bring a message of hope to the people,” Marriott says. “I spoke with Willy yesterday and he told me that the station is still broadcasting for a few hours every day. I believe that it’s running off a generator most of the time because the power can be quite intermittent.

“People know this is a station that really cares for them. It’s not a commercial station. It’s founded on the principle of discipleship. We want to disciple the people of Tonga through the airwaves.”

With some limited communications gradually being restored, and a number of telecom operators offering toll-free calls to Tonga last week, the station ran a special live phone-in program for friends and family overseas to send their greetings and pray on-air for the people of Tonga. So many calls were coming in by midday that the station extended to program hours.

TCR is currently raising funds to support their broadcasts and assist with local relief.

US residents can donate in support of TCR here!

Donors in other countries can click here to give!

Marriott also asks, “Please continue to lift Tonga before the Lord, not just now but continually. It’s going to take many months for the situation to recover to any kind of sense of normality. Not only has the water been polluted in the catchment areas, but also the crop plantations have been destroyed. It will take some time before the people can return to being self-sustaining. Please pray that that will be possible.”






Header photo depicts volcano eruption in Tonga, January 2022. (Photo courtesy of Tonga Christian Radio)