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Institute for Pastoral Initiatives News

A Pacific partner dealing with disaster

The Diocese of Tonga and Niue began a partnership with the University of Dayton’s Virtual Learning Commnity for Faith Formation (VLCFF) and residents were set to start online classes Jan. 17, 2022.

Their plans changed after a volcanic eruption, then a tsunami swept across the chain of Pacific islands. (photo above of vehicle covered in volcanic ash)

This account emailed to our staff by resident Bill Falekaono:

Our cohort was excited and ready to start our online faith journey with the University of Dayton on Jan. 17.  On the evening of the Jan. 15, about 5:15 p.m., the breeze was as natural as it could be, but a little warmer than usual as a light, southwest oceanic breeze blew across the face of the island.

As my grandchildren ran around the yard with excitement, I noticed things looked different in the evening sky. I saw a funnel of white clouds penetrating through the other clouds. Suddenly, we heard a huge explosion. We were kind of confused because that type of explosion was never heard before. The type of explosion, its loudness, its impact, was a new encounter.

My family called me. I was with the rest of the kids on higher ground and safe from the tsunami. The waves at this time began breaking over the villages. Waves were so powerful, rocking the foreshores off its foundations and concrete blocks were snapped and thrown to the opposite side of the road. Many houses on the waterfront were destroyed.

Many have heard from the older people that whenever explosions come from the sea, it means tsunami and title waves. That’s why people took off with no preparation, got into vehicles and drove to higher places.

As darkness fell, we felt and heard small, fine stones falling like hail on the roofs, and it fell on every surface of everything in the kingdom of Tonga. We saw vehicles covered with the small, fine black ash stones and after an hour or two, the ash began to fall heavily until the next day.

Power was cut off. It was one of the darkest nights for a long time. Internet was out for a month.

We are happy to have survived the ordeal. Several people did not.

Now Omicron, a variant of COVID-19, spread in Tonga and is still escalating. Now, we are dealing with the pandemic.

Bill Falekaono is the Director of Catholic Social Communication for the Diocese of Tonga and Niue. Some donations have been made to provide scholarships for those residents who plan to register for online classes with the VLCFF($40 for three-week and $50 for five-week courses) Read more about U.S. aid to Tonga here.

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