As extent of damage revealed, Tongan families in Australia wait anxiously for communication lines to re-open

As the first details of the extent of damage in Tonga from Saturday’s volcanic eruption begins to emerge, Tongans in Australia remain anxious to contact their families.

The Aholelei and Kaho family members wait to hear from their relatives (Taani Kaho, Niela Aholelei, Sikahema Aholelei, Roberta Aholelei, Fonise Aholelei, Veteange Aholelei, Eseta Aholelei, Luisa Aholelei, Ofa Kaho and Manuefanga Aholelei) CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

The Red Cross estimates 80,000 people may have been affected by the eruption and the tsunami that followed.

The first death has been confirmed as a British woman who was swept away.

Satellite photographs show that the uninhabited Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai island was virtually obliterated by the blast.

New Zealand Prime Minister said Nuku’alofa had suffered significant damage, with boats and large boulders washed ashore on the northern side of the capital.

The city was covered in a thick layer of volcanic dust.

There has been little news of damage in the outer islands. An RNZAF Orion made a reconnaissance flight over the area yesterday to assess damage,

There are fears that volcanic ash may contaminate water supplies and people have been asked to drink bottled water.

As news of the damage emerges, Tongans living in Australia have continued to try to contact their families.

President of the Tongan Association for Canberra and Queanbeyan Sikahema Aholelei said the past few days had spent nervously, watching the news and listening to the radio for updates.

Aholelei told the Melbourne Age the last time he spoke to his family was on Saturday night. He said there was a sound like thunder and then the line went dead.

“We keep trying and seeing if we can contact them by phone, WhatsApp, or Facebook,” he said.

“But maybe they haven’t been able to charge their phones.”

Queensland man Mosese Sitapa said he was calling his son Elone when the tsunami smashed through their home in Tonga.

The last time Sydney resident Petilise Tuima spoke with her family was on Saturday afternoon as they evacuated to higher ground, with 14 people squeezed into a small car.

“We are quite stressed at the moment,” she said.

“They didn’t take any food, they just took water … everyone was packed in the car. Everyone is calling each other within our Tongan groups, wanting to see if anyone has picked up or heard anything … We are just desperate.”

Tongan Olympian Pita Taufatofua has started a fundraising page for victims of Saturday’s devastating volcanic eruption.

He said he had not heard from his family, including his father.

“For now my focus is what I can do from my current position,” he said.

“My focus is on the people of Tonga who will need all our help to rebuild.

“Many Tongans around the world are in the same boat as me and worried about their families in Tonga.”

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