Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sunday, January 12th

It was a long night. The storm wasn’t all that bad here. It rained really hard and the wind was strong, but we have had worse storms in the past. I layed awake most of the night waiting for it to get worse. It was a lot worse in Ha’api. That island was in the main path of the cyclone. There were a lot of phone calls going on in the middle of the night. Ours all went through Ana because she is the Country Welfare Manager. She didn’t want to wake us up so she didn’t call us until 6:30 this morning. She came out to Liahona at 8:00 and we sat down with her to hear about what had happened. The storm was bad in Vava’u, very strong winds and lots of rain but no structural damage or injuries were reported. Ha’api was not so lucky. After leaving Vava’u the cyclone intensified and went to a category 5 rating. Then it hit Ha’api head on. Between 80-90% of the homes and structures are damaged or destroyed. All of the fruit is off of the trees that are left standing but most of them are down. Huge waves hit the coastal areas and destroyed most of the crops and the rain flooded everything. The winds ranged from 185 to 200 miles per hour. The only buildings left standing that were not damaged were the Mormon churches. Everyone that could, went there for refuge. The roof of the senior couple’s house was ripped off but they were able to find safety at the FM housing just through their back yard.

One older woman died on one of the outer islands. She was running from her house when a piece of the tin roofing blew off and struck her. She was not a member of the church. All of the members of the church and all of the missionaries are safe and accounted for. We have not heard anything about injuries.

After that update, Ana went home and we went into town to Sacrament Meeting. We only had Sacrament Meeting today because of the weather. It wasn’t really that bad but we were happy because we needed to get back to Liahona for a conference call at 12:30 with New Zealand and Salt Lake City. I was sustained to the Relief Society Presidency today. I don’t know how I am going to do that but I’ll do the best I can.

When we got home we went to the emergency container to take a count of the tarps and equipment so we would know what we could send to Ha’api. After the conference call we went back to the emergency container and got out 150 tarps and 4 chain saws to take to the airport. Elder Tukuafu, President Tupou and Howard Niu are flying up to Ha’api to access the damages and check on the missionaries and the buildings. When we got to the airport we found out that the plane was delayed so we drove back to Liahona to pick up more supplies to put on that plane. We gathered up water containers, hammers, axes, crow bars, saws, a spool of rope and helping hands vests and headed back to the airport.

Digicell, the cell phone company here, partenered with the church to charter a plane to fly supplies and people up to Ha’api. They want to get their phone system fixed up there as quickly as possible. Right now there is no communication with that island. The Red Cross and the church have satalite phones and that is the only word in and out. The plane that was chartered was coming out of New Zealand and it was really late getting here. It didn’t arrive until after 6:00. We made sure that all of the supplies were taken care of and then left them in the care of Howard Niu and headed back home.

An interesting side note. The Prime Minister had to declare an “Emergency Law” in order for the plane to be allowed to fly on Sunday. It is against the law in Tonga for planes to fly in and out of here on a Sunday.