‘It was raining rocks.’ Tonga volcano eruption hits home for this community in Euless

Marian Kupu/AP
·3 min read

Viliami Asaeli is part of a large Tongan community who call Euless home.

Euless has one of the largest Tongan communities in the world living outside of the island nation off of the New Zealand coast. Asaeli estimated that around 5,000 Tongans live in Euless.

Many of the Tongans who now live in Euless trace their history back to the 1970s and 1980s when their families came to work at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Asaeli said he was born in Tonga but came to Euless in 1984.

He works for Envoy, a subsidiary of American Airlines.

Although Texas is home, Asaeli and others are desperate for any news about their loved ones after an undersea volcano erupted, covering the islands in ash and cutting off most communication with the rest of the world.

“I saw news coming across on Facebook, and I got calls from my wife. The communication went down almost immediately. That immediately put us in a zombie-type state. You don’t know what’s going on. There was no news coming in, and all we saw were the before pictures and satellite images after the volcano erupted,” he said.

He was in Missouri visiting colleges with his son when he first heard the news.

Asaeli said he is fortunate that his parents also live in Euless, but he hasn’t heard from aunts, uncles and cousins in Tonga.

Faith and prayer are holding the community together, he said.

He described attending prayer vigils for Tonga on Facebook and Zoom.

Asaeli is the first vice chair of the Euless Tongan Community Committee, and he is asking people to donate to the Red Cross and to UNICEF. The committee is monitoring the news about the assistance that will be needed.

Ofa Faiva-Siale, who came to the U.S. when she was 9, said Tonga is used to natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes but nothing on the scale of the volcanic eruption.

“This volcano is very different. On the day of the eruption, it was raining rocks. We’ve never known anything like that,” she said.

Her ancestors passsed down stories, and she said there were never descriptions of volcanos erupting like what she saw in photos.

Faiva-Siale, who is assistant to the emergency management coordinator in Euless, said it is frustrating that she can’t communicate with her family. Tongans use Facebook to communicate with their relatives. Everyone is monitoring news outlets from New Zealand and Austrailia, she said.

Like Asaeli, Faiva-Siale is relying on her strong faith and prayer. She also has faith in the resilience of her people.

“The way people are there, you share what you have, no matter how little you have. They will help each other, and homes will be rebuilt,” she said.

Faiva-siale traveled to Tonga every year before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the country has been on lock-down since March of 2020, she said.

Faiva-Siale is grateful for the outpouring of support from school officials and state representatives.

“We have our faith, and we are a tight-knit community,” she said.