First it was the massive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano; then the tsunami that followed and now Tonga is in lockdown after COVID-19 finally reached the shores of the island Kingdom.
It’s been a triple blow since a series of eruptions from the underwater volcano 65km north of Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu peaked on January 15 and the NRL’s Game Development Manager -Tonga, Tavake Fangupo, said the Pacific nation had been left reeling.
In addition, Tonga has been forced to rely on limited satellite coverage for communication following the severing of the undersea fibre-optic cable which runs to Fiji and intersects with the trans-Pacific Southern Cross Cable that connects the nation to Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world.
As a result, there have been few images and little footage on social media or international news network of the devastation caused by the tsunami or the volcanic ash, which spread around the islands after rising into a plume 58km high and left widespread damage to vehicles and crops.
Clean-up efforts had barely begun when Tonga was plunged into lockdown on February 2 after the nation recorded its first community transmitted COVID cases since the start of the global pandemic more than two years ago.
"It’s really hard at the moment with the volcano eruption, the tsunami and now the COVID lockdown,’’ Fangupo said.
“People are still recovering from the volcanic eruption, and we are praying that Tonga can recover from this soon.
Mal's special message for Tonga
“We had a couple of positive COVID cases from the wharf, from people contacting with others on other ships offloading emergency supplies. Cases have increased from five cases to over 200 positive cases in Tonga since then and people are all in lockdown at home.
“It’s more than likely that lockdown in Tonga will continue because of increases in positive cases for further weeks.
“Only grocery stores are open for a few hours and the government has allowed the public every Tuesday and Friday during lockdown to go and do their food shopping, but it’s been hard for people accessing funds through remittances from family and friends overseas due to there being no internet in the country.”
The NRL has partnered with Red Cross Australia to launch the Tonga Relief appeal.
During NRL pre-season trial matches and the NRLW opening round triple header on February 27, fans will be encouraged to make donations to the Tonga Relief appeal.
Fangupo said the damage was widespread across Tonga and many people had lost their homes, while clean drinking water was in short supply.
“There were 2,000 homes totally damaged or wiped out,” he said. “People had been doing whatever they can to help each other but there is still a long way to go before we get back to normal.
“There are three main districts here on the main island and one-and-a-half districts are completely effected. We have three outer islands and two of the three are really affected so it is more than 50 per cent of Tonga.
“The main water supply here that people drink is from water tanks in homes and a lot of roofs of houses have been damaged, so people are having to replace water tanks and particularly gutters.
“Power is on and off because a lot of the transformers have got volcanic ash, so they are constantly having to turn power off to clean it. Also, a lot of power lines and wiring having been damaged.”
The NRL offices in Tonga suffered some damage from volcanic ash and water, as did the vehicles used by game development staff, while grounds and facilities used by local clubs have been also been impacted.
“We would love to do some clean up and provide supplies to the clubs to keep the game going in Tonga,” Fangupo said.
“It is obviously a big year this year with the Rugby League World Cup and Tonga is one of those places where sport always energise the country, and particularly the rugby league team, so we will do whatever we can to put smiles back on people’s faces.”
Donations to the Tonga Relief appeal aim to meet the immediate, early and long-term recovery needs of the most vulnerable communities; focussing on emergency shelter provision, cash and voucher assistance, disease prevention and psychological support, water, sanitisation and hygiene, continuing response operations, as well as strengthening Tonga Red Cross’ preparedness for future events.