Tonga Aid Ships Will Depart the Bay Area Soon. Here's How to Donate

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Large container ship docked under cranes at Port of Oakland, stacked high with containers
A family-owned shipping company that operates out of the Port of Oakland is preparing to send two shipments of relief supplies to Tonga following last weekend's devastating tsunami following an undersea volcanic eruption. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After at least three of Tonga's smaller islands suffered significant damage from tsunami waves caused by the undersea eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano over the weekend, members of the Bay Area's Tongan community are mobilizing to send aid.

A family-owned shipping company based out of the Port of Oakland that regularly ships to Tonga is organizing a relief effort and preparing to send the first of two container ships with supplies.

Sesilia Langi Pahulu, operations manager for SF Enterprises, said that nearly all the company's workers have family on Tonga and that many are still struggling to get in contact with relatives after the eruption and tsunami largely cut Tonga's internet connection.

"We talked to our staff until the power and the phone lines went out Friday night," said Pahulu. "They were all trying to get to higher ground."

SF Enterprises sends shipping containers to Tonga throughout the year, and estimates that the cargo ships will take between four and five weeks to arrive from the Bay Area.

The first of two ships carrying relief supplies for Tonga is scheduled to sail from Oakland on Friday. A second ship is scheduled to leave on Feb. 5. The deadline to drop off supplies for the second ship is by 4 p.m. on Feb. 2.

What is needed:

  • Drinking water
  • Nonperishable foods that are easy to prepare
  • Medical supplies including KN95 masks and first aid kits
  • Paper towels

Where to drop off donations:
2525 Mandela Parkway, Suite 1
Oakland, CA 94607 (map)

Drop-off donations are accepted 8 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

According to the U.S. Census, around 61,000 Tongans live in the United States. Tonga itself has a population of about 105,000. Pahulu noted there's a considerably large Tongan community in the Bay Area, particularly in San Mateo County.

A GoFundMe account also has been set up by Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan Olympic flag bearer, to assist those most in need and help with repairs to infrastructure. The fund has already raised more than $490,000 AUD, or Australian dollars (equal to $353,403 U.S. dollars), toward a goal of $1,000,000 AUD.

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On Tuesday, the Tongan government confirmed three deaths, of two local residents and one British woman. The death toll is expected to rise as more reports come from around the island.

Other countries are mobilizing to assist in relief efforts for Tonga, including New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand has already sent two ships carrying 66,000 gallons of water and a desalination plant with the capacity to produce over 18,000 gallons per day. The ships also will bring a survey and diving team to help assess the damage to shipping channels. Australia is preparing to send aid by air and ship.

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According to the Tonga Geological Services, plumes of smoke, ash and gas from the explosion on Saturday evening rose more than 12 miles above sea level and reached about 150 miles across.

Satellite imagery and reconnaissance aircraft showed the volcano coated the main island with a 0.78-inch layer of ash, preventing planes from landing on the runway at Fua’amotu International Airport. Volunteers sweeping the ash to clear a path for aircraft hope to have it ready by Thursday. Officials say one of the major problems facing Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu is the ash contaminating the rainwater residents rely on to drink.

Pahulu said donations of water and medical supplies will be shipped to the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) in Tonga. She stressed that the recovery process will take a long time.

"It's not going to be something that's going to be fixed in a month," Pahulu said. "This is going to be ongoing for a year or two, I would imagine."

"The other concern we have as a logistics company is, 'What is the condition of the port in Tonga?'" Pahulu added, saying she hopes that by the time the first ship reaches the islands in four or five weeks, the infrastructure will be in place to distribute aid to those in need.

This story includes reporting by KQED's Alice Woelfle and The Associated Press. The embedded radio interview was produced by KQED's Brian Watt.