Tonga To Copy El Salvador’s Bill Making Bitcoin Legal Tender, Says Former MP
In a ruling that is “almost identical to the El Salvador bill,” Tongan bigwig Lord Fusitu’a anticipates that his country could adopt Bitcoin by November. Tonga To Copy El Salvador’s Bill Making Bitcoin Legal Tender, Says Former MP
Another domino is lined up to fall down the route to Bitcoinization. On Wednesday, a former lawmaker of the Pacific island nation of Tonga shared a play-by-play approach to adopting Bitcoin (BTC) as legal tender.
In a series of tweets, Lord Fusitu’a, a former member of parliament for Tonga, released an ETA for Bitcoin becoming legal tender in Tonga. Copying El Salvador’s playbook, the move could onboard more than 100,000 Tongans onto the Bitcoin network.
In his five-point plan, the chairman of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption describes the adoption path:
In a follow-up comment, Fusitu’a said the bill is “modeled on and is almost identical to the El Salvador bill.”
The announcement sowed the seeds for questions, predictions and outright jubilation from Bitcoin Twitter before the Tongan set the record straight. He enthusiastically replied that the timeline for BTC becoming legal tender could happen as early as November or December this year, replying, “Boom! That’s us, brother!” in a tweet.
In 2021, it was widely speculated that Tonga would become one of the next countries to adopt BTC as legal tender. Speculation reached a fever peak following a podcast Lord Fusitu’a undertook with Bedford-based Bitcoiner Peter McCormack.
During the conversation, the then-member of parliament shared the remittance case for adopting BTC as legal tender. He said adoption would provoke:
“A disposable income increase by 30%. With that extra 30%, some (people) are going to be saving it rather than putting it into the economy and stacking sats.”
Tonga is a remote island nation that relies upon remittances from countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the United States. The International Finance Corporation estimates that Tonga receives more income from remittances than any other country in the world, contributing up to 30% of household income.
Furthermore, while the Tongan population numbers just six figures, the Tongan diaspora is vast. The International Organization for Migration estimates the Tongan population living abroad at 126,000, with up to 18,000 Tongans in Australia.
The remittance use case was one of the primary drivers for El Salvador adopting BTC as legal tender. According to the World Bank, Tonga’s remittance as a percentage of gross domestic product is substantially higher than El Salvador, at 39% vs. 24%, respectively.
Remittance aside, the Lord brought up domestic advantages for adopting the open-source protocol. He agreed that Tonga could create a BTC circular economy and that it’s “one of the few instances in which being a sparsely populated small island kingdom archipelago is an advantage.”
When the islands’ internet infrastructure was brought into question, the Tongan claimed internet and smartphone penetration rates exceeded 90%. The World Bank’s most recent figures — albeit from five years ago in 2017 — show Tonga at 50% internet penetration.
Bringing the islands online may take some time, but Fusitu’a is adamant about his country’s BTC future:
An economy that uses bitcoin for payment at every stage of the supply chain. From the seed to the table. Pay for cassava roots and cattle in bitcoin from the farming supplier all the way to the waitress serving it to you at Kardo’s steak bar and every step in between in #BTChttps://t.co/oR48NGzTGm
Volcanos, Bitcoin And Remittances: A Tongan Lord Plans For Financial Security
A former lawmaker from the island nation wants to use Bitcoin to secure his country’s financial security.
A former member of the Tongan Parliament is behind a proposal to make Bitcoin (BTC) legal tender in the tiny Pacific nation of Tonga, following in the footsteps of El Salvador. It’s due for a vote in Parliament in May and the early signs are encouraging.
Mataʻiʻulua ʻi Fonuamotu, Lord Fusitu’a told Cointelegraph that plans are in motion to use state-run volcano mining facilities to create wealth in Tonga.
Tonga has 21 volcanoes. “That means one volcano for every 5,000 people.” He owns one volcano himself through his family’s hereditary land rights.
The proposed Bitcoin mining operations would use the geothermal energy of the volcanoes to generate power.
“It takes two megawatts of electricity to service 5,000 people. So 40,000 megawatts will service the entire national grid. Each volcano produces 95,000 megawatts at all times leaving much to spare,” says Lord Fusitu’a.
“We will give every family hash huts. But, this is only 20,000 units, as there are only 20,000 families.”
He suggests each volcano can generate $2,000 of Bitcoin each day, to be “gifted” to each family by the Tongan government.
For an Island of 120,000 people, economies of scale matter and the average person stands to benefit greatly.
Tonga needs $26 million for the cabling to build the operation, but the World Bank said Tonga didn’t have the collateral for that funding.
Nevertheless, Tonga managed to raise the money through a Least Developed Countries grant. Given Lord Fusitu’a’s influence in local politics — and the fact he claims to own a volcano himself — he might just pull it off.
Lord Fusitu’a also claimed to have negotiated a gratis offer of the mining tech, but he has not revealed the terms of the deal. Chinese companies such as Bitmain have much market share in this space. It is also possible that refugee mining operations from China’s recent ban could be headed to Tonga. For now, that remains a mystery.
“For a nation-state, the math doesn’t change. The optimal state is for a state to have its own mining.”
Who Is Lord Fusitu’a?
Once a barrister before he was a politician, Lord Fusitu’a is a member of the Tongan nobility.
Tonga is the only country in the South Pacific with a remaining indigenous monarchy. While it is a member of the Commonwealth, this was done so by choice in 1970. Tonga has never been colonized, despite pressures from imperial nations throughout history.
Lord Fusitu’a decided to step down as MP in November 2021 after recovering from operations for serious medical conditions and living in New Zealand for three years, especially with Tonga closing its borders due to COVID-19. However, his cousin has taken his seat in the Tonga Parliament, so according to Lord Fusitu’a, his domestic legislative agenda remains intact.
Two clinical deaths due to injury have informed his ambitious agenda at the Global Organization of Parliamentarians against Corruption, which includes anti-corruption legislation and gender empowerment and climate change policies.
When he spoke to Cointelegraph, and as is common since a series of surgeries, he is shirtless and covered in tattoos (a Tongan word corrupted by Captain Cook) that depict a millennium of his clan’s tattoo history.
Lord Fusitu’a has been a “Bitcoin only guy” since 2013, but “don’t let the exterior fool you:” He began coding when he was eight years old.
It was his time stuck in hospital when he couldn’t speak or swallow and could only read when he reaffirmed his passions. Re-reading every printed word about Bitcoin.
Lord Fusitu’a is very visible in Bitcoin circles online where he waxes lyrical about why his country, which relies so heavily on remittance payments, should pursue Bitcoin adoption.
“It’s the soundest money ever devised. It’s the combination of digital scarcity and decentralized distributed ledger. The most democratic egalitarian money on the planet. It’s sound money, the most pristine asset ever devised. It has a 200% appreciation year-on-year. As a store of value, it’s the apex creditor asset.”
“But, if you’re a remittance-dependent country like El Salvador or Tonga, it’s life changing immediately. For hyperinflation ravaged countries like Nigeria or Venezuela, where you need a wheelbarrow of currency to buy a loaf of bread […] it could be a survival mechanism for four billion poor people,” he said.
Fusitu’a explained his four-part plan for changing the way Tonga operates its economy to Cointelegraph.
The plan consists of financial education for Tongans about Bitcoin remittance payments, making Bitcoin legal tender, setting up Bitcoin mining operations in Tonga and creating Tongan Bitcoin national treasuries.
A key part of the plan revolves around fiscal education for Tongans whose economy is most heavily dependent on remittances.
Lord Fusitu’a says he is tired of families in the developing world losing so much of the badly needed income from middlemen when sending remittances home.
About 40% of the Tongan national economy is built upon remittances sent back to the country from its diaspora of almost 300,000 overseas workers, according to Lord Fusitu’a. They send money back to the island population of about 120,000. As more than double the population lives in the Tongan diaspora, remittances are crucial to the national economy.
He claimed that Tonga’s “GDP in 2020 was $510 million, 40% of that is just over $200 million. So, 30% of that, or $60 million, is fees alone to Western Union.”
Lord Fusitu’a argues that feeless Bitcoin transactions would provide a 30% uptick for everyone on remittances, as the Western Union charges villagers 30% commissions, though a calculator on Western Union’s site suggests a fee of nearly three Australian dollars for transferring a 100 Australian dollar transaction.
However, Lord Fusitu’a Says That This Does Not Account For The Fact That:
“The $2.90 on $100 shown on the website does not show that there’s a minimum fee of around 10–25% on ALL remittances, depending on where you’re sending from that’s not shown on the website. When your average remittance from El Salvador or Tonga is $50–$100, that’s a lot of your remittance. It also doesn’t show that you’ll be charged the forex slippage for the purchase of Australian dollars, its conversion into Tongan pa’anga and purchase of the TOP.”
Tonga has already begun the financial literacy and “how money works” education programs in 2021, and teams were sent out for community outreach. What does the “how money works” discussion look like? Simple:
“People understand the three hours of travel and the $20 return fare bus ticket. Waiting in line at a Western Union to pay the high remittance fees. The $70 dollars that is at the counter instead of the $100 they thought they would get. And then there’s the beggar’s tax, as beggars sit outside. Three hours each way back to the village, makes a nine-hour day, you come home tired, hungry and having lost remittance fees and bus fares just to get $40-50 of your original $100 wire transfer.”
Importantly, there’s a high rate of mobile-first internet adoption in Tonga.
“A cell phone with an internet connection can change lives immediately,” Lord Fusitu’a says. For the unbanked, “a cellphone and warm wallet is their first participation in any financial system ever.”
Non-Know Your Customer wallets like Moonwallet can help those that don’t have IDs. “It’s not about Bitcoin Bros, this is a viable mechanism for the billions of unbanked poor people globally. $200 billion of $700 billion lost in fees in annual remittances globally hurts the average family.”
Also, in 2005, Tongan instituted a consumption tax (GST) of 15%, rather than an income tax, which further penalizes the poor. If Bitcoin is adopted then more money in the pockets of average Tongans — and less for Western Union — will also benefit government coffers through the consumption tax.
Lord Fusitu’a also provides Bitcoin fundamentals talks weekly in the Tongan language.
The Legal Tender Bill
Lord Fusitu’a looked to El Salvador’s bill for Bitcoin as legal tender before its release and seeks to pass “pretty much a carbon copy.”
Tonga’s bill has been ready to go since July 2021 and would make Bitcoin legal tender alongside Tonga’s currency, the paʻanga.
Like article 7 of El Salvador’s controversial Bitcoin Law, the bill would make Bitcoin mandatory to accept if proffered.
The bill will be tabled at the next session of parliament in May 2022. To pass, it will require the approval of a parliamentary majority of at least 14 of the 26 members.
Nine members of parliament are hereditary lords who “vote in a block” and supposedly “always” follow Fusitu’a’s lead as the only lawyer and barrister in parliament. Three other elected members have exposure to Bitcoin. Needing only two more of fourteen votes would seem to make a successful majority vote plausible.
Lord Fusitu’a expects there to be a natural uptick in remittances from the Tongan diaspora when and if the bill is passed into law. Bitcoin remittances back to Tonga have already seen an increase in 2021, he mentions.
It is pegged to five currencies keeping it artificially low to protect its exports of mainly produce, but this makes imports expensive.
Bitcoin National Treasuries
The final part of Lord Fusitu’a’s four-point Bitcoin plan is building Bitcoin’s national treasuries as a hedge against inflation. The lord’s thoughts on Bitcoin’s utility have informed this decision that is controversial in traditional economic policy.
“Emerging markets traditionally hold theirs in ‘melting at 5% per annum’ USD, ‘devaluing at 2-6% per annum’ gold and ’negative yielding since 2008’ U.S. bonds. We do this also. Had we moved our $700 million national treasuries into BTC in March 2020 they would have been worth $22.5 billion by February 2021.”
“With a 2020 GDP of $510 million, $22.5 billion is equivalent to 45 years of Tongan economic productivity earned in 11 months,” he says, adding, “When Nayib Bukele teases on Twitter that he’s ‘buying the dip,’ what he means is he’s moving his national treasuries from those three dead man’s assets into BTC with each purchase.”
Bukele has been criticized for his decisions, but part of this criticism stems from the nature of his governance. Lord Fusitu’a’s track record of participation in multinational groups suggests he is more amenable to working with international organizations to secure his country’s economic future.
But, if it’s so obvious, why don’t other countries follow his logic? “They see the logic but it takes the money from legacy finance,” Lord Fusitu’a says.
Another Pacific Island, Palau, is rolling out a stable coin on Ripple’s XRP. “Are they crazy? Their approach is more palatable because partnerships with XRP with Ripple include legacy finance rails.”
The international monetary policy risks are still there for Tonga. In October 2021, the Internal Monetary Fund released a report acknowledging that crypto ecosystems could replace official currencies in “unbanked” emerging economies unless regulators ensure financial stability. But, perhaps that showed that the IMF was paying attention to Tonga.
On both the legal tender and the Bitcoin mining plans, Lord Fusitu’a is optimistic. The “Bitcoin community likes seeing the underdog win.”
Like many in crypto land, Lord Fusitu’a is either a genius or a great showman. Or both.
Tonga is now accepting Bitcoin donations to aid with relief efforts as the country faces the aftermath of a huge volcanic shockwave leading to a tsunami.
On Friday, the Kingdom of Tonga experienced the shockwave of a massive volcanic eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano.
More eruptions ensued after the first, leaving the citizens of Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga, to face down a tsunami.
Amid the difficulties, crypto holders expressed their sympathy and intent to donate Bitcoin (BTC) to help with the relief operations. Twitter user Onair Blair urged Bitcoin supporter and former Tongan lawmaker Lord Fusitu’a to set up a wallet address where people can donate Bitcoin for Tonga’s relief funds.
With waves of up to 1.2 meters (about 4 feet) covering roads and properties, people started fleeing to higher ground to escape. At the time of writing, there have been no casualties reported. However, air and water contamination are now some of the immediate concerns for aid organizations.
On Friday, Lord Fusitu’a told Cointelegraph of plans to use geothermal energy from the volcanoes to power Bitcoin mining operations that would aid the country’s finances.
The country has 21 volcanoes, and according to Lord Fusitu’a, “each volcano produces 95,000 megawatts at all times leaving much to spare.” The lord noted that a single volcano can generate $2,000 worth of Bitcoin daily, and this will be given to Tongan families.
The former lawmaker also noted that the country is set to copy El Salvador’s move of making Bitcoin legal tender. In a series of tweets published on Wednesday, Lord Fusitu’a said that this could happen as early as November or December this year.
Tonga Left Largely Cut Off After Volcanic Eruption, Tsunami
Ash cloud threatens clean water supplies as New Zealand mobilizes aid effort.
When an underwater volcanic eruption off Tonga triggered tsunami waves at least a meter high on Saturday, the managers of the Ha’atafu Beach Resort and their children sprinted through bushes in a desperate scramble to safety.
They have since returned to a changed landscape. The tropical coastline popular with surfers and snorkelers, was ravaged by the tsunami, which caused ocean swells as far away as the U.S. West Coast and Japan. The nearby Kanokupolu village was severely damaged.
“It’s with sadness to say that our beautiful home, Ha’atafu Beach Resort, has been completely wiped out,” the New Zealand-based owners said on Facebook.
Tonga, a Pacific nation comprising around 170 islands, is counting the cost of damage from the eruption and tsunami, including to electricity networks and fresh water stores.
On Monday, a New Zealand air force surveillance plane joined those efforts, seeking to monitor the impact on Tonga’s outlying islands and quantify aid needs. The plane was unable to depart on Sunday because of risk from a vast ash cloud.
Katie Greenwood, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Pacific, said that damage on Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu wasn’t catastrophic, but the situation on outlying islands wasn’t clear yet, based on reports from humanitarian groups.
Ms. Greenwood said that because Tonga has no recorded community spread of Covid-19, the country will be cautious about who it lets in to help with the relief effort. “Tonga certainly doesn’t want to be replacing one disaster with another,” she said.
There have been no official reports from Tonga of casualties or deaths among its 100,000 residents. Communications, however, remain patchy with much of the information aggregated so far from satellite-internet and phone connections to embassies and with Tonga’s diaspora in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.
Images provided by Taukolo Matekitonga, a Tongan resident of Sydney, showed families sleeping under makeshift shelters after evacuating inland.
Residents of Tongatapu—home to most of Tonga’s people as well as the Tongan monarchy’s waterfront palace, embassies and resorts—recounted a deafening sound from the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano about 43 miles to its north.
Soon the sky darkened, heralding the ash that would blanket the archipelago. Not long after, tsunami waves started to crash ashore, carrying away vehicles and inundating seafront properties, videos showed.
“It really popped our eardrums and everyone froze,” said Nightingale Filihia in a video posted to Facebook before Tonga’s internet connection with the world was severed. “Everyone froze in town and we were like—what the heck is that and then it just went pitch black,” she said.
The video recorded at a family home near Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, showed visibility reduced by ash fall, and cars moving slowly down a nearby road as people moved further inland.
“I don’t know what to say right now. It’s just really bad. But they did tell us to stay indoors because it’s dangerous. What a start to 2022,” she said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said electricity had been restored in Tonga’s capital and Tongan authorities had reached some outlying islands. There are reports that deaths had been avoided in those locations, she said, but also cautioned that information so far is second- and third-hand.
“It is early days,” she said.
Undersea-cable network companies believe the disaster has caused a break in Tonga’s cable that connects the country to the rest of the world via Fiji. The last break in 2019—caused by a ship’s anchor—took two weeks to repair using a specialized vessel, but didn’t face the complications of an erupting volcano.
Ms. Ardern said a Hercules transport plane will speed the delivery of clean water to Tonga, which is reliant economically on agriculture and trade with New Zealand and Australia.
“We know water is an immediate need. The Hercules will, we hope, be able to take off today, in order to meet that need much more quickly than our navy vessels can reach the islands,” she said.
Anahila Kanongata’a Suisuiki, a lawmaker in New Zealand’s parliament who has family in Tonga, said clean water supplies will be crucial as some communities in the Pacific country rely on rainwater tanks that could be easily contaminated by ash.
Whether regular communications can be restored to Tonga within a couple of weeks is unclear, said Tonga Cable Ltd. Chairman Samiuela Fonua, who is currently in New Zealand.
Tests indicate a possible cable break about 23 miles offshore Nuku’alofa. In the case of a clear cut, both ends of the cable would be pulled aboard the repair vessel and spliced together using specialized machinery, he said.
“This time I am not sure yet because we have to take into account site conditions, the fact that the repair ship will be entering the Tongatapu waters not too far away from the eruption site and if the volcano is still active,” he said.
Pita Taufatofua, the Shirtless Tongan Olympian, Raises Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars for Tonga Relief Aid
Fundraising on GoFundMe page is expected to help victims and repair damaged infrastructure, schools and hospitals in island nation.
Pita Taufatofua, who became internationally recognized for marching shirtless as Tonga’s Olympic flag-bearer, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in a campaign aimed at aiding the island nation after a volcanic eruption and tsunami left it significantly damaged.
The online fundraiser conducted through a GoFundMe page has raised over $330,000 through more than 8,000 donations as of Wednesday morning. The funds are expected to be distributed to help victims and repair damaged infrastructure, schools and hospitals, Mr. Taufatofua wrote in the fundraiser description.
“In the time of need you stood up and stepped forward. We appreciate you all,” Mr. Taufatofua wrote to donors. He has linked to the GoFundMe page through his verified Instagram and Twitter accounts. Mr. Taufatofua didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The fundraising comes after an undersea volcano erupted Saturday, generating a gigantic ash cloud and triggering a tsunami that was centered on Tonga—a Polynesian nation comprising 170 islands home to around 100,000 people. The tsunami’s effects were felt as far away as Japan and the U.S. West Coast.
While the full extent of the damage is still being assessed, the natural disaster killed at least three people, damaged dozens of homes, covered much of the country in ash and left many people missing, according to the United Nations. It caused power outages and significantly disrupted communication channels.
The Tongan government has responded to the crisis with assistance from aid groups and neighboring governments including New Zealand and Australia. The question now is how to get aid safely into Tonga, one of the last Covid-free places on Earth.
Mr. Taufatofua is a taekwondoka who gained stardom when he carried Tonga’s flag in the 2016 Rio Olympics wearing a traditional tupenu around his waist with no shirt and his body slathered in coconut oil. Two years later, he defied odds by competing in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics as a cross-country skier despite having never skied until roughly a year before competing.
Mr. Taufatofua said in a television interview from Australia over the weekend that he was unable to reach his father, a governor in Tonga. On Tuesday, he said in an Instagram post that he still hasn’t heard from his father or family on Kotu and surrounding lower islands. He said his family on the main island of Ha’apai is safe and that their over-100-year-old home is still standing.
The Olympian said he is working to bring awareness about Tonga to audiences across the world.
“This has happened because you all have been pivotal in sharing the fundraiser, sharing the limited footage of the damage and sharing your concern for our Tongan people,” he wrote to donors.
Tonga’s Disaster Preparedness Likely Limited Tsunami Death Toll
Familiarity with natural disasters, tsunami drills contributed to rapid reaction, officials say.
The deafening boom that followed the violent eruption of an undersea volcano near Tonga acted like a warning bell for island residents to flee inland, a response that likely reduced the death toll when tsunami waves crashed the coastline not long after.
Tongan officials said the Pacific nation’s practice of running tsunami drills had also played a part in saving lives, even as the island archipelago sustained extensive damage to property, with the majority of houses on some islands being completely destroyed.
The confirmed death toll from Saturday’s explosion and tsunami, which was felt as far away as the U.S. West Coast and Japan, so far is three.
Tsunami warning systems in the oceans are designed to detect waves caused by earthquakes and may not register the rarer event of a tsunami caused by an eruption. But some specific actions by Tonga’s meteorological service in the hours before the major eruption may have primed people to respond quickly to signs of danger or prompted them to stay away from the coastline.
Lesser eruptions at the undersea volcano were reflected in tidal gauges and prompted the agency to post cautionary information on its Facebook page around sunrise on Saturday. In the late afternoon on Saturday, not long after a more significant eruption, it announced a tsunami warning for all of Tonga.
Around the same time, thunder-like sounds were heard across the archipelago—a precursor to the cataclysmic explosion, and lightning could be seen.
“We expect tsunamis, tropical cyclones and earthquakes to happen on our islands,” said Lord Fatafehi Fakafanua, the speaker of Tonga’s parliament. “However, the reality is nobody expected a volcanic eruption of this magnitude.”
Out of 181 countries, Tonga ranks only behind Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands for its vulnerability to natural disasters in the World Risk Index, which informs planning by governments and other policy makers.
The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located around 43 miles to the north of Tonga’s main island, shot ash and gas nearly 20 miles into the air, according to satellite data collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Much of that ash has fallen on Tonga’s islands, including airport runways and wharves, complicating initial efforts to reach and evacuate communities or bring them emergency supplies.
After reports of the eruption, a Red Cross disaster coordinator in Suva, Fiji, was on the phone to Marika Moala, a disaster coordinator on Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, where three-quarters of the around 100,000 population lives. As they talked, Ms. Moala was running up and down one of Tonga’s few hills, helping people to get to higher ground.
“Big traffic jam in Tongatapu and police, Red Cross are helping traffic to move and get more people to higher ground,” said the notes of the conversation, which were provided by the Red Cross.
“Waves has (sic) come through the coastal side of the city toward the palace, but confirmed that they’re not huge damaging ones yet. More updates to come,” the notes say.
Not long after the conversation, Tonga’s primary internet and telecommunications connection with the world was severed and it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that the Red Cross had contact with its Tonga team again.
Tsunami waves may have been as high as nearly 50 feet at islands closest to the volcano, according to a Tongan government statement. Some 43 miles south of the volcano at the capital Nuku’alofa, tidal gauges measured them at more than 3 feet. Despite being relatively low, they were powerful enough to cause severe property damage around the coast and toss vehicles.
“People tend to look at some of the footage and think the waves aren’t very big, but tsunami waves are very different,” said Katie Greenwood, head of the Pacific delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “They just push, push, push and each wave behind it brings more volume.”
Planes transporting aid from Australia and New Zealand landed in Tonga on Thursday after ash was cleared from the runway of a key airport. Water was among the supplies onboard, as sources such as stored rainwater have likely been contaminated with ash.
A New Zealand navy vessel is expected to reach Tonga on Thursday, the government said, significantly expanding the scope of the humanitarian effort. A second New Zealand vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa, is expected to arrive on Friday and can produce more than 18,000 gallons of water a day through desalination.
Tonga is frequently battered by tropical cyclones and was also affected in 2009 by a tsunami that was centered on Samoa. Debris carried by tsunami waves also can kill.
Government officials and humanitarian organizations say this familiarity with natural disasters and continued preparedness likely contributed to the rapid reaction and saved lives. Despite being spread over dozens of islands, Tonga’s population is also tightly knit together by religion, extended family and respect for its monarchy.
The sound of the final eruption that triggered the tsunami was “like a bomb exploding,” said Marian Kupu, a reporter with radio station Broadcom Broadcasting.
“Our ears were ringing, we couldn’t even hear each other,” she said. “Personally I wasn’t scared,” she said. “The only thing that kind of scared us was that the disaster was different from the previous ones, which is always tropical cyclones.”
There is frequent conjecture in disaster, academic and wider circles about the effectiveness of tsunami warnings, said Ms. Greenwood. But in this case it seems clear that training and preparation in Tonga has reduced the catastrophic effects, she said.
Not everyone, however, could run from the waves.
Lisala Folau, who walks with the help of crutches, and a niece, were swept off tiny Atata island about 6 miles north of the capital Nuku’alofa, according to the transcript of an interview with Broadcom radio.
Mr. Folau clung to debris for hours, finally making it to shore at a village near the capital early Sunday morning, but his niece, Elisiva, didn’t survive.
“We floated at sea, just calling out to each other,” Mr. Folau said, according to the transcript. “It was dark and we could not see each other. Very soon I could not hear my niece calling any more.”