The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sending aid to the kingdom of Tonga after last week’s volcanic eruption caused tsunamis, falling rocks and a communication blackout.
In a news release from the Utah-based church, officials said they made contact with leaders in Tonga in the past 24 hours and are working to understand the extent of the area’s needs. Tonga has the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints of any country in the world (nearly 63%), and a ferry with 30 tons of supplies donated by other LDS congregations left Saturday for the country’s Ha’apai islands.
According to The Associated Press, at least three people are dead after the explosion, and several settlements on the archipelago’s smaller islands were “wiped off the face of the map.” About 15 families are still staying at the church-run Liahona High School with nowhere else to go, the release states, but they may move into nearby chapels once the school reopens.
The church’s governing First Presidency sent a letter to Tongan Latter-day Saints on Friday, reminding them that the church will be with them through the island’s recovery. Another letter was to be delivered to Tonga’s king and queen Saturday.
“As you recover from the devastating volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami, and all else you have endured and are enduring, please know that your fellow Saints and other people of faith and goodwill around the world are praying for you,” Presidents Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring wrote. “We are praying that the Lord will pour out blessings upon each of you, that your hearts may be calmed and strengthened, that your families and homes may be restored and refreshed, and that your communities may be peaceful and beautiful again.”
A second ferry of supplies will be sent to the country’s outer islands Wednesday. Supplies were already sent to communities on the western side of Nuku’alofa — the Tongan capital — and the island of Eua, which were both hit hard by the tsunami, according to the release.
The church’s Tonga Outer Islands Mission leaders are on their way to Ha’apai with 35 returned missionaries who will help deliver supplies, including a satellite phone that was used in Eua until the island’s phone service was restored. Fuel for mission boats will also be delivered to Ha’apai to distribute supplies to some of the smaller islands.
Although stores in the country remain open and stocked, they are running out of essentials quickly, the release states. Government officials are working on clearing shipping channels into the country’s capital so large vessels can dock, while domestic flights to two of the country’s island systems — Vaava’u and Ha’apai — are up and running.
Those who wish to support the people of Tonga may donate to the church’s humanitarian fund, the release states, which is available here.