On January 15, the eruption of undersea volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai triggered a tsunami, devastating the island nation of Tonga.
Waves swept through villages and volcanic ash covered much of the island nation, causing widespread devastation and contaminating water supplies.
Power was cut and an undersea communications cable damaged, isolating Tonga from the outside world.
What followed was days and weeks of uncertainty and anxiety for Cromwell’s small Tongan community as they awaited news of loved ones back in their homeland.
Lucy Fukofuka said it was a bit of a ‘‘waiting game’’.
‘‘Sometimes we couldn’t bear it — two nights I couldn’t sleep not knowing what’s happening and I think it’s the same with other families thinking of their loved ones back home,’’ she said.
‘‘We heard about the tsunami and we saw little video clips of waves washing offshore and we didn’t know how far it came inland so we were really worried.
‘‘The anxiousness, you know, was really huge.’’
Thankfully, her family was safe and affected only by the volcanic ash, she said. ‘‘They were OK, so we’re really grateful for that.’’
Two months on, the residents of Tonga are still cleaning up and beginning to rebuild their lives — and the Central Otago community has stepped up to help.
Mrs Fukofuka said five Tongan families — three from Cromwell and two from Queenstown — felt unable to help those back home and it was only after being approached by members of the community they felt they could help.
‘‘It was raised from the community if we were doing anything for our family back home, but the thought of us — because it’s too far from the wharf for us to travel to and take stuff — it’s a huge thing to do,’’ she said.
‘‘We got together and agreed that if we have the support from the community then yeah, we can do this.
‘‘We started from nothing, you know there was nothing there and this is the first time we ever do something like this.
‘‘There is so much love, so much hope and so much faith in each other that we can do this.’’
With the help of the combined Lions Clubs of Cromwell, Alexandra and Clyde and Districts, the families arranged a 20ft container of supplies to be shipped to Tonga.
The Lions Clubs organised a Saturday morning food drive and collections of food, linen, kitchen utensils, pots, pans and towels have been taken up by schools, community groups, churches and individuals.
Volunteers gathered together at the weekend to package the goods on to pallets for the container which would arrive from Auckland in the coming days.
It would be shipped to the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) in the capital, Nuku’alofa, then to be distributed in two villages — Patangata and Siasia Island— nominated by the families.
The villages were chosen because of their connection to Central Otago, with seasonal workers from the area coming to Cromwell twice in the past two years, Mrs Fukofuka said.
‘‘Some of them are from those villages and they are two of the villages that have been so affected quite badly. Some homes were washed away so that’s why we nominated them . . .we know some of the boys through seasonal workers and we’d love to help these families.’’
Much of the relief sent to Tonga was food but many families lost everything, their homes washed away by the waves, Mrs Fukofuka said.
‘‘There are mothers holding their babies and they have nothing.’’
All families in both villages would benefit from the supplies.
‘‘It will be contributed straight into the villages and. . .all the families there — not only the families that their homes have been washed away — but all the families in the villages will have a share of what has been contributed to them.’’
The support received by the Central Otago community had been ‘‘overwhelming’’.
‘‘From the first day we started from nothing and the Lions in Central had been so amazing — they supported us 100%.
‘‘We are so grateful to have people like that who can support and reach out for us,’’ she said.
‘‘We have been collecting quite a lot and it’s amazing, really amazing, the turnout and things the community had contributed and donated to our families back in Tonga.’’
‘‘It’s the least that we can do, not being there in person, but this is what we can do here — call out to the community that wanted to help.
‘‘We’re really amazed that God can bless others to reach out for us, it’s really amazing.
‘‘There was a lot of prayers and we fast about this all the time and this project — you know it’s really amazing what God can do through people, through us together working as a team, it’s really, really great.’’