Peace Corps Videos

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Photos from the Tsunami in Tonga

The islands of Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’oa in Tonga have been devastated by a tsunami that hit  the region Wednesday morning just before 8am local time following an earthquake.

This is the same tsunami that did so much damage in Samoa and American Samoa.   (Samoa is on the other side of the dateline so it hit there on Tuesday.) 

Unlike Samoa, these Tongan islands, which are commonly known as the “Niua’s” are pretty remote.  A boat takes supplies to those islands just once a month and there is not regular plane service.

The Tongan Development Bank, where I work,  has an office on each of the islands.  Its office in Niuatoputapu was one of many buildings destroyed.

This is a photo of the damage.  You will have to click on it to read the captions.  You will see where Mafi’s house was located.  Mafi is the branch manager in the Niua’s and the only person I know up there.

Hihifo, Niuatoputapu after Tsanumi

This is a wider view of Hihifo showing the damage.

Hihifo, Niuatoputapu after Tsanumi This map shows the epicenter of the quake.   You can see how close Hihifo is to the epicenter and you can also see Apia, Samoa, where most of the damage occurred.  (I’m in Neiafu, which is in the lower left corner.)

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And this is a photo of the staff and office in Niuatoputapu, taken on September 21st, just 10 days ago.  Mafi, who I mentioned above, is the woman in the middle.

photo of the staff TDB office in Niuatoputapu Earthquakes are not uncommon in Tonga.  There are active volcanoes throughout the South Pacific including here in the Island Kingdom.   However, they are rare enough that you still notice when they happen.  That was the case Wednesday morning, just before 7am.  I was awake, but still in bed when the shaking started.  It lasted a long time and I knew immediately it was the strongest earthquake I had felt since moving to Tonga two years ago.   I also didn’t think the quake was strong enough to do any damage here.  

At no point was anyone in Neiafu really worried.  Vava’u is very hilly and the harbor is one of the most protected harbors in the South Pacific.  Yacht owners will often leave their boats here during cyclone season because it is so well protected and after the warning was issued many of the boats that were out on the water returned to dock.

My friend Scott, who is a Peace Corps volunteer on Ovaka, one of the outer islands of Vava’u is the only person I know in the Vava’u region who actually saw any impact from the Tsunami.  I spoke with him on the phone and he says the water went over the wharf on his island, something he had never seen before, and then went down to sea level.  He said this lasted for about 30 minutes.  He described it to me as “More interesting than scary.”

This is the second major disaster to hit Tonga in the past 60 days.  The ferry Ashika sank in August killing more than 70 people.

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