Maxar closeup satellite imagery shows the ash covered homes and buildings on January 18, 2022, after the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption on January 14th , 2022 in Tongatapu, Tonga.
Photo (c) Maxar via Getty Images.

 

On Thursday, 20 January, the Honourable Frederica Tuita shared a gripping account on her social media of her experience during the 2022 Hunga Tonga eruption and the resulting tsunami. On last Thursday, 14 January 2022, there was a sizeable explosion on Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai, an uninhabited volcanic island of the Tongan archipelago. Hunga Tonga is forty miles north of Tongatapu, the Tonga’s main island. The eruption caused tsunamis in Tonga, Fiji, American Samoa, and Vanuatu. Following is Frederica’s recollection of the what it was like on the main island: 

All praise and glory to the highest and most holy; our Heavenly Father for seeing Tonga through the volcanic eruption which not only shook heaven and earth but shook the very core of everyone who was here in the Kingdom that day. 

The volcanic ash has settled into every crevice our lives and we still sleep in fear of another eruption. Yet through the ash, panic and chaos, I saw hope. In the rush to evacuate with my parents to the villa (His Late Majesty King George V’s residence located on the highest point nearest town), I was separated from my children. I decided to try and cheer everyone up around me which in turn kept me from worrying about my children (who I later confirmed were safe at home with my eldest sister and her son). The power all over Tonga was out and we were using phones and candles to see. While I was sitting in the villa dining room I looked outside and saw it, through the dark was a stream of vehicles coming up the villa driveway. Their Majesties had kept the gates open for anyone seeking refuge from the tsunami wave and volcanic ash rain. The entire estate had vehicles parked in it from back to front. Families gathered on the porch and we welcomed children and elderly into the dining room; the look of relief as grandmothers closed their eyes sitting on soft seats brought us all comfort. I sat with my phone light on Elizabeth Kite and Melemanu Bloomfield and watched them tearing large black and purple pieces of material left from Baroness Tuputupu and Lord Ma’afu’s funerals for everyone coming in; almost all of them didnt have masks and the air was thick with dust and sulfur. As more people came in, I decided to free up my chair for them and found a spot on the floor near my parents and Her Majesty the Queen (HMQ) at the entrance hallway. Even from the hallway I could hear people and children coughing, mothers patting their children’s backs and shushing softly to comfort them. 

As we sat there waiting for any news, an army truck turned in with bottled drinking water. Her Majesty excused herself as she saw to the distribution of water, startling those sitting outside who looked up then took a second look to confirm it was HMQ standing before them. Late into the night I could hear a child wake up crying, perhaps surprised to find themselves in a strange place. 

All our senses were on high alert; I didn’t want to believe there was a little less sulfur in the air so I asked my mother and HMQ if they thought there was less sulfur in the air, they agreed. The air in the house was still, we opened the door just a little but the air brought with it ash and dust that I could feel hitting my face. We closed the door but not before I whispered to my mother’s police security, “if the police drive out and go past my home, please let me know so I can hitch a ride? I need to see my kids”. She said yes and I had more reason to stay awake and wait. 

Before leaving their home, my father had grabbed his radio; at the villa he found a wooden chest and sat on it with his radio on his lap. He would turn the radio on from time to time so we could listen for any news of the volcano. We all had a mixture of feelings until mother turned to us and said, “si’i ‘aonga pe ‘ene langa e?”. She was referring to His Late Majesty King George V, not many not even I knew that he had built the villa for reasons such as this. The drive way is long enough for so many vehicles to park along; safe on higher ground. I took another look at the families coming in with all the facilities available to them, turned to my mother and said, “Yes mum, ‘aonga lahi ‘aupito ‘ene maa’imoa kihe kakai”.  

Suddenly my cousin Laite walked in and told me the ash rain had eased up and the police van was able take me home. I bid HMQ and my parents goodbye and made my way through the thick layer of ash on the ground to the vehicle. As we drove on the road, no other vehicle was moving, everyone had been told to find shelter, anyone found driving around by police were instructed to park there. Everything was covered in at least 3 inches of ash. The road was dark and the island was completely still with uncertainty lingering in the air. We turned into my home and relief washed over me as I saw candle light shining out from inside. As I walked up I greeted my sister and husband who had sought safety there and walked inside to all 3 of my children running towards me. I knelt down and embraced them all at once, this was all the sustenance I needed. With my daughter and sons safely in my arms, I was ready for the sun to rise and help light the way to the Kingdom’s recovery.

The Honourable Frederica Tuita Filipe, 2016.
Photo (c) Getty Images / Amanda Edwards.

The Hon. Frederica Tuita is the third of four daughters of Princess Royal Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu, The Lady Tuita, and her husband Siosaʻia, The 9th Lord Tuita. In 2013, Frederica Tuita married Johnny Filipe; the couple have three children. Frederica’s uncle is King Tupou VI of Tonga; her late uncle was King George V of Tonga. 

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If you would like to donate to help the Tongan people recover, here are a few helpful links:

GoFundMe – Tonga Tsunami relief by Pita Taufatofua
Friends of Tonga – Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai Volcanic Eruptions and Tsunami Disaster Relief

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