The brother of a British woman who was swept away from the coast of Tonga by the tsunami on Saturday and is still missing, has told the Guardian he has grave fears for her safety.
“What are we, 48 hours later? I don’t think this is going to have a happy ending,” an emotional Nick Eleini said.
So far, no casualties in Tonga – which has a population of just over 100,000 – have been confirmed. Though there are unconfirmed reports that three people were swept away by the waves, and that two have so far been found.
The impact of the tsunami, and the resulting ash cloud that has blanketed the islands, is feared to be enormous, with NGOs warning of contaminated drinking water, seawater ruining crops, as well as damage to homes and infrastructure.
Eleini, who lives in Sydney, spoke to the Guardian as he was travelling back to the UK to be with his mother, Jennifer. His sister, 50-year-old Angela Glover, was swept away from the beach along with her husband and four or five of the couple’s dogs by a tsunami triggered by a huge volcanic eruption. Glover ran an animal rescue shelter in Tonga.
“The tsunami hit around 5.30pm local time, I believe,” said Eleini. “Angela and her husband, James, got washed away. James was able to cling on to a tree for quite a long time, but Angela was unable to do so and was washed away with the dogs, I think four or five dogs.
“They were housesitting a house on the west coast of the island [of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island]. James went back to their proper house on the south coast of the island, but Angela didn’t turn up. James contacted the police and the British embassy there, where he was able to notify us of what happened.
Eleini, who was crying as he spoke about his sister, said the search was ongoing. “One of the dogs has been found, but Angela hasn’t been found.
“It’s excruciating. I can’t even believe the words are coming out of my mouth, to be honest.”
Information out of Tonga has been almost impossible to gather since the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano on Saturday afternoon local time, followed by a tsunami, which saw 1.2-metre waves crash across the islands, swirling around buildings and into homes.
The undersea communications cable, which is key to Tonga’s communications network, was apparently damaged and families outside Tonga have been waiting desperately for news, as communications remained down across most of the country. Families in the Tonga diaspora in Australia, New Zealand and the US are already raising funds for recovery efforts and preparing for rebuilding programs.
Roughly 20% of Tongans live below the poverty line, and the country’s GDP per capita sits at just above US$5,000. Much of the economy of the country is based on remittances, with Tongans overseas sending money back to the islands.
Glover’s husband, James, was able to contact her family in the UK via a satellite phone supplied by the British embassy to inform them of what had happened.
The huge undersea volcano eruption, believed to be the biggest in 30 years, could be heard and felt more than 2,000km away.
Two people have drowned off a beach in northern Peru after unusually high waves were recorded in some coastal areas after the volcano. The deaths occurred on Saturday on a beach located in the Lambayeque region, Peru’s National Institute of Civil Defence said in a statement.
Glover, who was born in Brighton and has a background in marketing and advertising, has been living in Tonga since about 2015. She set up an animal shelter called Tonga Animal Welfare Society to care for and rehouse stray dogs.
“She always wanted to travel the south Pacific, and she’s always been drawn to swimming with whales, and Tonga’s one of the places that you can do that,” said Eleini. “She married James in about 2014 and talked him into following her around the Pacific and they settled in Tonga.”
James Glover had a tattoo parlour in London before moving to Tonga. He set up the Happy Sailor Tattoo Parlour in Nuku’alofa, the country’s capital.
Eleini believes his sister could have been at Ahau, a village on the eastern side of a small spit of land on the west of Tongatapu, when the tsunami hit.
“I kind of thought if they were at home, they would’ve been alright, but that’s a very small spit of land, only a few metres above sea level. All I can speculate is that the waves came and washed them away.”