Fiji and many other Pacific islands and Pacific Rim countries were also affected by the tsunami and tidal surges that followed the eruption.
“The current situation is unclear as most outside communication is disrupted and only satellite phone is accessible to a few,” said Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches.
In a statement shared on social media, Lord Fakafanua, speaker of the House in the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, wrote:
“On January 15, 2022, following an unprecedented volcanic eruption, a devastating tsunami struck the Kingdom of Tonga. Many areas were also affected by substantial volcanic ashfall.”
Lord Fakafanua further shared that communications remain down and the full extent of the harm to lives and property is currently unknown. “What we do know is that Tonga needs immediate assistance to provide its citizens with fresh drinking water and food,” he wrote. “More details on Tonga's official disaster relief fund will be announced shortly so that those looking to help can contribute directly to Tonga's relief efforts.”
On 17 January, the New Zealand and Australian governments prepared immediate relief support.
“In the meantime, please continue to pray for Tonga and our Pacific household of God in these challenging times of activity in the Pacific Ring of Fire, cyclone season, COVID-19, all continuing to be exacerbated by climate change,” said Bhagwan.
In a pastoral letter to church leaders and all people in Tonga, World Council of Churches acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca expressed consternation and a sense of solidarity.
“The emission of volcanic ash has impacted the lives of people and we are not yet sure of the dire consequences,” he wrote. “In the midst of the chaos, and still so many uncertainties, be assured of the constant prayers of the worldwide ecumenical movement—we pray for you and we stand with you in solidarity amid this terrifying disaster.”
In the face of these seemingly insurmountable challenges, Sauca encouraged Tongans to not lose hope.