Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Safe but Homeless: Tongan New Zealander fears for family back home

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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John Pulu | Presenter/ Reporter/Director

Longo Kafoika will never see his family home on Mango Island again.

“It’s really damaged,” he says.

Longo says the houses that were there before are all gone.

“The seawater is now where the houses were.”  

Mango is the closest island to the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano. The January 15 eruption triggered tsunami waves that devastated the island.

Longo’s parents watched helplessly from the highest peak on the island as the waves washed away their village.

Sixty two of Mango’s residents survived but one death has been confirmed, bringing to three the number of those killed in this disaster.

Longo’s family are among the survivors who have been relocated to the main island of Tongatapu.

Even though communication has been a major issue, he’s managed to find out that his loved ones are staying at a church hall near Nuku’alofa.

Longo's family home in Mango, his family are among the survivors who have been relocated to Tonga. Photo: Tagata Pasifika
Longo’s family home in Mango, his family are among the survivors who have been relocated to Tonga. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

But the trauma these survivors have faced is now a real concern for people like Longo’s parents.

“There is work being done to help people return to normal,” says Longo’s father Sulaki Kafoika.  

“But the truth is, some are still quite shaken and I know it’s impacted their mental health.”

Tonga’s Ministry of Health’s counselling services are helping families get through what has happened.

 Many are unsure they will ever return home but Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni has met with the evacuees to weigh up their options.

This is the first major event the Prime Minister has had to deal with since being sworn in only last month and his priority is supporting all those who have been impacted.  

“We are looking at about 300 houses that need to be rebuilt,” he says.

Eighty-four percent of Tonga was covered by volcanic ash affecting drinking water and destroying crops. Tonga’s government has provided tents for temporary shelter as well as handing out water and food to all those affected.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku is blown away by the generosity shown in New Zealand.

“We have seen footage and we’ve seen photos of our fellow Tongans there in New Zealand collecting all the food items and so forth and we are so thankful for that,” he says.

“I guess that’s one of the reasons why it prompted the government to actually approve that all those items will be tax and duty free.”

While aid is on its way, His Majesty Tupou the sixth has reportedly offered land for the stranded islanders.

Auckland-based Mango community leader Mote Pahulu says people will also need help long term when it comes to re-settling elsewhere.
Auckland-based Mango community leader Mote Pahulu says people will also need help long term when it comes to re-settling elsewhere. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the Auckland Tongan community stepped up to fill and send 25 containers of goods within a week. These contained much needed emergency supplies for loved ones in the islands.

Auckland-based Mango community leader Mote Pahulu says people will also need help long term when it comes to re-settling elsewhere.

“I will probably help out that way instead of sending food at this stage,” he says.

Longo, along with so many other Tongans, is giving his family something that goes beyond what supplies and shelter can offer – hope.

“We get in touch on the phone; we talk day, afternoon, you know, at night. I was just trying to encourage them to don’t worry, just live where the government is preparing for them to stay,” he says.

“Until they get a home to go and be comfortable over there”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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