Tongans abroad fear never seeing loved ones again

In its first update since Saturday's massive volcanic eruption and tsunami, the Tongan government said on Tuesday that every home on one of Tonga's small outer islands has been destroyed and that three people so far have been confirmed dead.

With communications badly hampered after an undersea cable was severed in the disaster, information on the scale of the devastation has so far mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.

"At the moment we've had no contact at all with anyone from Tonga..."

Seini Taumoepeau, who lives in Australia but grew up in Tonga, said she has hundreds of close friends and extended family in Tonga across multiple villages and towns.

"The worst fear is always that you're not going to see the people that you love again. Yeah, that's the worst fear. The worst fear is the suffering of other people, that's hard to cope with. Probably even more than your own suffering. Yeah, I would definitely say that. Our ability to empathize with each other is quite massive. When somebody else loses a parent, we all feel it and the same if I was to have any suffering I'm aware that other islanders, other Pacific people, other Tongans, all feel exactly my feeling. That's how close we are."

A statement from Tonga's prime minister said all the homes on Mango island, where around 50 people live, had been destroyed, and that other nearby islands had suffered extensive damage.

The statement also said a 65-year-old woman on Mango and a 49-year-old man on Nomuka island had been killed, in addition to a British national whose body was found on Monday. A number of injuries were also reported.

New Zealand sent a navy ship carrying personnel, equipment and supplies to Tonga on Tuesday and officials said another would follow.

Australian authorities on Monday said their initial reports suggested no mass casualties.