Tongan community meets with Portland leaders to send aid after eruption and tsunami

“My mother’s siblings and my father’s siblings – some of them are still back on the island”

FILE – This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano in Tonga on December 24, 2021. Three of Tonga’s smaller islands suffered severe damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2022, as a wider picture begins to emerge of the damage caused by an undersea volcano eruption near the Pacific archipelago nation. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland’s Tongan community is organizing help with city officials after a massive eruption near the island nation of Tonga left the country in limbo.

Lute Richards, 36, is the Pacific Island Youth and Family Advocate for the Portland-based society. Immigrant and refugee community organization. Richards said she and other IRCO members met with municipal leaders from Portland and Beaverton to discuss a healing space for the local Tongan community and send resources to the country.

Richards has yet to hear from some family members in Tonga after a volcano, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, erupted below the surface of the ocean last Friday.

“My mom’s siblings and my dad’s siblings — some of them are still back on the island,” Richards said. “My mum and I haven’t bonded with the families yet, but little things are looking up a bit on the island. It is a feeling of comfort. »

The explosion sent ash, steam and gas more than 10 miles into the sky, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

With help along the way, Richards hopes a healing space can help the Portland-area Tongan community until they can hear from their family members as well. Organizers are hoping to coordinate an in-person space this weekend or go virtual due to an increase in omicron variant COVID-19 cases.

“Crying together or just being with others,” Richards described.

Regarding resources for Tonga, she said community organizers are trying to gather resources over the next week. Richards added that water and materials to rebuild have been a priority in sending aid to the country.

The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga finally arrived on Thursday after the Pacific country’s main airport runway was cleared of ash left by the massive eruption, according to The Associated Press. volcanic.

When asked if the spread of COVID-19 by aid workers was concerning to her, Richards shook her head up and down with her eyes wide open.

“They really need that support, but it’s very scary too because even a bit of COVID that gets into Tonga – everyone gets it, just like that,” she snapped. .

Despite the worry in the back of Richards’ mind, she said she was grateful to the city leaders of the Portland metro area for reaching out to the local Tongan community to find out how they could help.

“It may not be as big as other crises, but they reached out first. We are dear to this city of Portland because the majority of us live here,” she said. “So it’s important that they recognize us. We are therefore very grateful for their initiative to reach out.

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