How a volcano separated Tonga from the world

At least three people were swept away by the waves, including Angela Glover, who was originally from England. She had moved to Tonga and opened an animal shelter with her husband, who was a tattoo artist. After the volcano erupted, she posted a photo of a red, glorious sunset on Instagram and told her followers that “everything is fine.” But when she returned to rescue some of the dogs she was taking care of, she drowned.

Her husband, who found her body a few days later, survived by clinging to a tree. Many others climbed up and did the same. Tricia Emberson, 56, said her uncle and his son, who live on a small island near Tongatapu that was flooded by water, also climbed into the trees for safety.

“The island was submerged or partially submerged and pretty much everything was washed away,” she said.

The Pangaimotu Island Resort, which her uncle has run for decades, seemed to have disappeared. Her own house, he told her in a phone call at 4 a.m. Thursday that only went through after dozens of redials, had been pushed into the sea with the entire back wall.

“You grow up with it,” she said in an interview from Australia, where she has been living since just before Covid led to closed international borders. “You don’t really know the magnitude of these things, but you grow up with this gut feeling of what to do and I think the proof of that is the fact that we’ve had so few deaths so far.”

Many Tongans abroad who managed to speak to their relatives – usually in the early hours when demand for satellite services was less – reported that their concerned calls were mostly answered with humble requests not to worry. Tongans are known for their laid-back, easy-going culture and Christian faith, which at times seemed to clash with the angst of the always-connected world.

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