Uncertain future for islanders who survived Tongan eruption

The first two booms from the volcano were scary enough, but the third explosion was immense, sending everyone from the village running from their homes in a reaction that would save all but one of their lives.

Even now, more than five weeks later, the children from Mango Island still often run or cower when they hear a thunderclap or loud noise.

The small island in Tonga was one of the closest places to the Jan. 15 South Pacific volcanic eruption, an event so massive it sent out a sonic boom that could be heard in Alaska and a mushroom plume of ash that was seen in startling images taken from space. On Mango Island, every single home was destroyed by the tsunami that followed.

All 62 survivors were rescued by boat and moved to Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, where they have been living together since in a church hall. Most of that time they’ve been in lockdown after Tonga experienced its first outbreak of the coronavirus.

Two of the survivors described their experiences and uncertain future to The Associated Press in an interview that was translated by an official from the Tonga Red Cross.

Sione Vailea, 52, said Mango Island is the prettiest place he knows and nothing compares to it in all of Tonga. Just 14 families lived on the island, he said, all of them close together in a single village.

Each family owned a small, open-sided boat and each morning the weather was favorable, they would go onto the ocean to catch reef fish, snapper, octopus and lobster.

What they couldn’t eat…

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