Tonga prop Ben Tameifuna said on Wednesday a tsunami that hit the Pacific Island nation this past weekend will “knock it back a few steps” after also struggling due to coronavirus restrictions.
Three people were killed when the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded on Saturday, triggering waves that ripped down homes and caused widespread flooding.
The country spent a large part of the last two years suffering from border closures with wealthier neighbours such as New Zealand and Australia.
The Tongan government has called the dual-eruption tsunami “an unprecedented disaster” and reported waves as high as 15 metres (50 feet) destroyed almost every home on some outlying islands.
“Being a little country, with little resources, I feel to have this on top of what’s been going on anyway is going to have a huge impact on the country,” the 30-year-old Bordeaux-Begles forward told AFP.
“I think it’s going to knock Tonga back a few steps.”
Virtually the entire population of 100,000 people has been affected, and initial assessments indicate an urgent need for drinking water in the country, a five-hour flight to the north of New Zealand.
The tsunami broke a vital undersea communications cable linking Tonga – which according to the World Bank had a higher GDP than just seven other countries in 2020 – with the rest of the world. Partial phone service only returned earlier on Wednesday.
Tameifuna grew up in Auckland but he has cousins, uncles and aunts living in Tonga, which along with other Pacific Island nations provide 20% of the world’s professional rugby players.
“I’ve sent a couple of texts to my family by [Meta] Messenger but I can tell they haven’t seen it because it hasn’t been verified on the other end. It shows that the communications are still down,” he said.
“I haven’t really heard much from my family and it’s worrying until you actually hear that they’re all right.
“All I can do is get on with my day and pray that they are fine. Hopefully they get hold of us soon.”
Former New Zealand centre Malakai Fekitoa and Tonga Test captain Sonatane Takulua, who both grew up in the kingdom, have set up pages online to gather funds for the recovery efforts.
“Tonga is going to take as much help as it can,” 148kg tight-head Tameifuna said.
“It’s not the biggest country but we have a saying in Tonga, which is: ‘We have hearts as big as mountains’.
“Wherever we are in the world we try and contribute and raise the profile of our country.”
This Saturday, 18-time international Tameifuna and his French club head to Leicester Tigers in the European Champions Cup where he is likely to face ‘Ikale Tahi’ (Sea Eagles) teammate Hosea Saumaki.
“I’ve been up late a few times this week, just checking through my [Instagram] stories and messages,” Tameifuna said.
“Every time there was a break between sessions I’ve been on my phone checking updates. It’s in the back of my mind but I’ve got a job to do as well.
“I will catch up with Hosea and see if we can put a little something together. Hopefully we can have a chat and sort something out.”
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty Images