Bay Area Tongan Community Waiting for Answers From Family, Friends After Tsunami

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The people in Tonga, who were hit by a tsunami Saturday after a volcano erupted beneath the ocean, were still cut off from the rest of the world Monday. 

The loss of communication has many in the Bay Area’s large Tongan community concerned about just how bad it is for their family and friends. 

Workers at Takemoana Foods in Redwood City are trying their best to conduct business as usual but they know what the community is going through is anything but normal. 

There are only a few images coming out of Tonga as officials there try to restore communications. 

Those who got some word early are not encouraged.  

“They’re not able to drink the water, the last time that I heard, they were not able to drink the water and they couldn’t bathe in their water,” said Ana Faicailo of Pacifica, who has not been able to communicate.

The loss of communication in Tonga has many in the Bay Area concerned about just how bad it is for their family and friends following a Tsunami Saturday. Robert Handa reports.

That was the main concern the owner of Kumar's Island Market in San Jose has been hearing. 

He pointed out the Tongan community, about 60,000 strong, is spread out but many come to his store to buy his home food.

The communication outage from the tsunami is what they’re all talking about. 

“It was a big, big concern. I’ve been talking to customers, every customer that comes in wondering if their families are OK, and how they’re doing.” said owner of Suren Sellamuttu. “So the lost connection, that was their biggest worry. That they can’t communicate anymore.”

Kumar’s and Tokemoana, and others who are trying to organize relief efforts, aay despite the communication breakdown, they’re not going to wait. 

“The tongan community is very concerned,  but you don’t have to be Tongan to help,” said Tokemoana Kalol Mahfutau of Redwood City. “It’s very hard to communicate with the people there now, so it’s important we get everything ready for when they need it.”

A number of Tongan churches also say they’re planning to mount relief efforts, and hope they’ll hear from the victims soon to know exactly what’s needed. 

At SF Enterprises in Oakland, a company that forwards freight almost exclusively to Tonga, Sesilia Langi Pahulu said she knows many local Tongans want to help.

She’s waiting to coordinate with Tonga’s official relief agency, but communication is still extremely limited.

"It is complicated in the sense that we want to help everyone and make it uniform and make sure it gets into the right hands because it would be a shame to collect all these donations and get it on a ship and it gets there and nobody claims them. And we’ve had that happen before," said Pahulu of SF Enterprises.

Those ships take four to five weeks to get to Tonga from Oakland.

Those that want to help can donate cases of water, medical supplies, masks and more at SF Enterprises located at 2525 Mandela Parkway in Oakland. Goods must be delivered by Tuesday, another ship sails on Feb. 5.

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