Tonga's resort guests raise funds as the world rallies around them

WELLINGTON (AP) -- Tonga's tranquil resort was situated behind a lagoon-and-reef break that was ideal for both snorkelers and surfers. Moana Paea, owner of the resort, and her staff would cook delicious meals together. Guests could also relax in rustic cabins hidden in the trees.

Tonga's resort guests raise funds as the world rallies around them

The tsunami and massive volcanic eruption that followed left many homeless and killed at least three others. The waves swept away the Ha'atafu Beach Resort.

It's completely barren. After looking at images online, Paea's brother Alan Burling said that the site looks like a bombsite because of the volcanic black ash.

Now, however, many former guests from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. are fundraising money to help Paea, her husband Hola, get back on their feet.

This is just one way the world rallies to support the people of remote Pacific islands nation rebuilding. New Zealand, Australia and Japan have sent water and other supplies to the remote Pacific island nation.

Pita Taufatofua was a sensation for being Tonga's bare-chested Olympic Games flagbearer. He has now started an online fundraising page to raise 1 million Australian dollars ($720,000).

Tonga has never been home to the luxurious resorts of Fiji and Tahiti in the Pacific, so tourists come expecting a more authentic experience. The pandemic that had decimated international tourism in Tonga had already affected the Ha'atafu Beach Resort. So the owners turned to their famous cooking.

Peter Lund, New Zealand's acting high commission in Tonga was going to pick up food when the volcano erupted. He described the events via satellite phone from Tonga, Friday.

Lund stated, "It's all quite a blur now, but I heard an incredible thunderclap." Lund said that the resort staff had told him it was too dangerous for him to stay, so he drove back to his car.

"The waves were coming in. Lund stated that he got back on the main road. "And slowly the skies became blacker and volcanic ash began to rain down."

Lund's 30-minute drive to Nuku'alofa's high commission turned into 90 minutes. The compound was built on higher ground so Tongans ran to safety. Lund had around 80 people stay that night.

Moana Paea and her family were back at the beach resort. They had no time to save their belongings so they ended up climbing trees to survive. Burling lives in New Zealand.

After speaking briefly with his sister by telephone, he stated that she was "like everyone else", very upset and very emotional.

He stated that he hadn’t told her yet about the online fundraising site he created, which had already exceeded its goal at 100,000 New Zealand Dollars ($67,000).

Burling stated that Moana doesn't like all the fuss and wouldn't want us to raise the funds. "But she would have lost literally everything, and they have staff that can support her."

According to him, the resort could accommodate 30-40 guests in 14 cabins or fale. It is too early to predict if they will rebuild. The volcano could erupt once again. Burling stated that his first priority is to send his sister a large box of clothes and other essential supplies.

People who have donated money online have left messages.

One couple wrote, "Lovely memories from two wonderful family holidays at Ha'atafu [with truly beautiful people]," "We are saddened by the destruction, but so happy to hear that everyone is safe."

People are also beginning to clean up the island's main island, Tongatapu. U.N. humanitarian officials reported that the eruption of the volcano has affected 84,000 people, or 80% of Tonga’s population.

Many were left unable to reach loved ones overseas after the tsunami cut the single fiber-optic cable connecting Tonga with the rest of the globe.

Sione Taumoefolau, Secretary General of the Tonga Red Cross Society stated that they have two satellite phones and invited families to use them. Each person was given three minutes to communicate with family members abroad.

Taumoefolau stated that everyone was crying and it was very touching. "We have made 300 calls in the past two days."

Satellite links are slowly restoring some phone service, but the internet is still down.

Taumoefolau stated, "Everyone misses internet. They're going insane for the internet."

Many were unable work because of the internet outage that prevented people from connecting to each other.

Many people have been cleaning up the ash from their houses. People rely on rainwater for drinking, but Taumoefolau stated that the Red Cross was giving out water cans or encouraging people to use the city's supply.

He stated that they would need a lot of rain to wash away the ash. However, it is dry now since the eruptions of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano.

On Friday, a New Zealand navy vessel arrived in Tonga with 250,000 liters (66,000 Gallons) of water. It also has a desalination facility that can produce thousands of liters per day.

A ship carrying supplies left Australia, while Britain diverted a Royal Navy vessel. Japan sent military planes, and a ship was already on its way.

"People are still trying to come to terms with all of it. Lund, acting high commissioner, stated that people are calmer than they were a few days ago. "I think that people have felt less anxious because the volcano has remained quiet," Lund said.

He said that the gradual restoration of communication was helping.

Lund stated, "So," "progress."

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