Tongan community of Marlborough raises funds to send aid home

The Pasifika community of Marlborough hosted the Auckland-based ASA Foundation in Blenheim last week during work to organize emergency supplies for Tonga following the volcanic eruption and tsunami.

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The Pasifika community of Marlborough hosted the Auckland-based ASA Foundation in Blenheim last week during work to organize emergency supplies for Tonga following the volcanic eruption and tsunami.

Between her support for the Tongan community of Marlborough in organizing aid and her daily work at Oranga Tamariki, Lynette Leota is still waiting for news of her brother and sister back in Tonga.

Her siblings have been without news since a volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami flooded the islands and blanketed them in ash on January 15.

Telephone and internet links have only been partially restored since the eruption severed a fiber optic cable linking Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, to Fiji, and an undersea link on Tonga’s inner island network . Repairs were expected to take weeks.

“It’s quite worrying. And a lot of families here are in the same boat, some of them still haven’t heard from their loved ones,” Leota said.

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Other images are also emerging revealing extensive damage from the volcanic eruption and tsunami.

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“I literally just heard from my parents, and my family just heard from an elderly uncle who we were worried about, on one of the outer islands, we just heard from him yesterday.”

Leota said Tonga was a fairly flat country so the tsunami affected large swaths of the islands.

“It actually changed the geography of Tonga.

Lynette Leota, a woman from Marlborough, helps organize relief efforts following a disaster in Tonga.

SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

Lynette Leota, a woman from Marlborough, helps organize relief efforts following a disaster in Tonga.

“Where my family comes from, an entire island has been evacuated because it is no longer livable, it is covered in ashes. Homes are totally destroyed, plantations are destroyed, even where our loved ones are buried is destroyed, it’s devastating. It’s a wonder the death toll wasn’t higher.

An international relief effort, led by New Zealand and Australia, was underway with support from Japan, the United States, France and Pacific island nations.

Complicating relief efforts, two Tongan port workers were confirmed to have Covid-19, the first cases in the country, prompting a 48-hour lockdown from 6 p.m. Wednesday. They were working to distribute reconstruction supplies. Three other cases linked to port workers have since been confirmed.

The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano on January 15 filmed.

The Tongan community in Marlborough came together in the days following the eruption and tsunami to discuss how to help their loved ones back home.

Tonga’s Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Lord Fakafanua, flew in from Auckland last week to help, along with people from the Auckland-based Samoan charity ASA.

Leota worked in Oranga Tamariki’s Pasifika team and had previously collected donations to send to Samoa during its measles outbreak in 2019.

Lord Fakafanua and members of the Tongan community in Marlborough met at Connect Church in Blenheim last week.

Andy Brew/Marlborough Express

Lord Fakafanua and members of the Tongan community in Marlborough met at Connect Church in Blenheim last week.

She was supporting the relief efforts of the Tongan community of Marlborough by helping to organize shipping containers in which to send emergency supplies such as food, water and building materials. The containers were each expected to cost thousands of dollars to rent and ship.

A Givealittle page named Marlborough to Tonga (M2T) is said to be launched by the Tongan community of Marlborough on Friday, to fund the cost of shipping containers.

“And then there will be people on the other end to receive [the containers and donations]. I think that’s what’s great is that we support the families here, to directly support their families back home,” Leota said.

“Many of them have had plantations affected from which they sell and export food, but there are also resorts and hotels that have been devastated. So they are rebuilding from scratch…it there are whole villages wiped out. It’s a big recovery project.

Leota said people can keep up to date with the relief efforts of the Tongan community in Marlborough by following the Marlborough Pacific Trust Facebook page or the Kalia Trust Facebook page.

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