(NewsNation Now) — Two days after a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami, Tongan Olympian Pita Taufatofua says he’s yet to hear from his father, who is governor of the Ha’apai province.
“All there is at the moment is a couple of satellite phones that allow us to access bits of information coming out of Tonga,” Taufatofua said Monday on “NewsNation Prime.”
The small island nation’s plight is compounded by resulting environmental problems. The eruption severed the country’s underwater communications cables and volcanic ash has made the airport’s runway unusable.
Satellite images captured the eruption, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific. Tsunami waves of about 2.7 feet crashed into Tonga’s shoreline, and crossed the Pacific, causing minor damage from New Zealand to Santa Cruz, California. The eruption set off a sonic boom that could be heard as far away as Alaska.
New Zealand’s military said it hoped the airfield in Tonga would be opened Wednesday or Thursday. The military said it had considered an airdrop but that was “not the preference of the Tongan authorities.”
So far, there have been three confirmed fatalities on the island, and Taufatofua says he’s trying to keep his mind on the need for urgent help.
“I can’t be focused too much on how my father is or how my family is because many people are going through this exact same process at the moment,” Taufatofua said.
U.N. humanitarian officials and Tonga’s government “report significant infrastructural damage around Tongatapu,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“There has been no contact from the Ha’apai Group of islands, and we are particularly concerned about two small low-lying islands — Mango and Fonoi — following surveillance flights confirming substantial property damage,” Dujarric said.
New Zealand’s High Commission in Tonga also reported “significant damage” along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, including to resorts and along the waterfront area.
“When communication comes back on, there’s going to be a country that needs the assistance of of many great nations,” Taufatofua said.