The waves swept away at least three people, including Angela Glover, who was originally from England. She had moved to Tonga and opened an animal shelter with her husband, a tattoo artist. After the volcano erupted, she posted a photo of a red, glorious sunset on Instagram, telling her followers that “everything’s fine.” But when she returned to save some of the dogs she was caring for, she drowned.
Her husband, who found her body a few days later, survived by holding on to a tree. Many others clambered up and did the same. Tricia Emberson, 56, said that her uncle and his son, who live on a small island near Tongatapu that was overrun with water, also climbed into the trees for safety.
“The island was submerged or partially submerged, and pretty much everything was washed away,” she said.
The Pangaimotu Island Resort, which her uncle has run for decades, appeared to be gone. Her own home, he told her in a phone call that went through at 4 a.m. on Thursday only after dozens of redial attempts, had the entire back wall pushed into the sea.
“You grow up with this,” she said in an interview from Australia, where she has been living since just before Covid led to closed international borders. “You don’t really know the scale of these things, but you grow up with this gut instinct of what to do, and I think the evidence of that is the fact that so far we have had so few deaths.”
Many Tongans overseas who have managed to speak to their relatives — usually in the wee hours, when there was less demand on satellite service — reported that their anxious calls had been answered mostly with humble pleas not to worry. Tongans are well known for their relaxed, easygoing culture and their Christian faith, which has seemed to clash at times with the anxiety of the always-connected world.