A community of Tongan families gathered in Portland Saturday to support each other after this month’s devastating volcanic eruption in the South Pacific Ocean.
Many people shared stories about their last phone calls with relatives before they lost all communication. The islands still remain mostly isolated and without power after the undersea volcano erupted, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and covering the islands in ash.
Portland has a small but tight-knit Tongan community. About 100 people attended the gathering at a church in northeastern Portland.
Suliasi Laulaupea’alu said all his siblings and their children are on the islands. He hasn’t been able to reach them since the eruption.
“I haven’t had a chance because of the communications that break down,” Laulaupea’alu said. “That’s what most of the Pacific Islanders here in the states, they really need to speak or talk to their relatives to make sure how they are doing back in the islands.”
Laulaupea’alu moved here 30 years ago. He said he never imagined a volcano like this would erupt and put his family in turmoil.
Sosefina Talanoa is a more recent transplant. She moved with her husband and eight children to Portland from Tonga in 2015. She still has family on the islands, including a 26-year-old daughter she hasn’t been able to reach.
“But I pray that soon I’ll talk to them,” Talanoa said.
Between stories of both struggle and gratitude, people took to the microphone at the front of the church gymnasium to sing traditional Tongan songs. One speaker said that through song, they can heal and empower each other through the days ahead, as they learn more about what the eruption left in its wake.