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From Maui with love: Kihei church organizes emergency supply drive for Tonga

Many members of the church have relatives in the island nation still recovering from an eruption and tsunami.
Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 7:08 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2022 at 8:04 PM HST
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KIHEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - As recovery efforts for Tonga continue around the world, church members on Maui are organizing a donation drive of their own.

Details are still being worked out among the St. Theresa Church’s Tongan choir, but parishioners say they are grateful they have finally been able to reach family members.

“Just yesterday is when I got to talk to my sister,” said Katalina Tolutau.

Tolutau still hasn’t heard her sister’s voice because reception is still spotty, but she’s receiving messages.

“Just knowing that they’re OK was kind of like a relief,” Tolutau said. “So now we got that relief … we can kind of take it from there to see what they need and how everything is with the aftermath.”

Friday marks two weeks since a volcanic explosion led to a tsunami and ashfall causing widespread damage. Three people have died, hundreds of homes are destroyed, and thousands of people are displaced.

White House officials say communication is especially challenging.

“Due to the fact that the eruption and tsunami actually damaged Tonga’s submarine communication cable and limited international and domestic communication,” said Krystal Kaai, White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders director.

“So, we know that it’s been a very big desire to get more updates on the work that that’s been done and is continuing.” Tolutau said in addition to food and water, islanders also need clothes.

“They need clothes because they don’t have water where they can’t wash their clothes,” she said. “They’re starting to have rash.”

White House officials say an added challenge is getting help to a country that has managed to remain coronavirus free throughout the entire pandemic.

“We and other partners want to make sure we respected Tonga’s no-contact policy,” said Taylor Ruggles, Director of the Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Office at the U.S. Department of State.

Details on St. Theresa Church’s donation drive is forthcoming.

For more information on how to help, contact Makatila Falekaono at mfalekaono@rcchawaii.org or (808) 879-4844. “We’re just asking for whatever anybody can help with. We’re grateful for anything,” Tolutau said.

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