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University of Otago associate dean (Pacific) Dr Losa Moata’ane still had not heard from her family, including her mother, sisters and first cousins, almost a week after the January 15 eruption.
"They are on Tongatapu and I come from the village of Fafaa," she said.
She had to assume they were fine, but it was unsettling with no communication for days.
Dunedin Tongan community president Palanite Taungapeau said he had many friends and his wife had brothers and their families on the main island of Tongatapu.
He also had not had any word days after the eruption.
It had been "like a dream you cannot see" to have no communication from the islands, he said.
He had been waking up at night thinking about what was happening, and it was a worrying time for all in the Dunedin community.
Dr Moata’ane said a gathering last Friday was an opportunity to bring the local Tongan community together.
The gathering had two purposes, to connect spiritually, as church leaders led the community in prayer, and to hear a scientific presentation by University of Otago geologist Dr Marco Brenna.
"Our faith and our knowledge is fundamental — it is what we lean on," Dr Moata’ane said.
Having the scientific facts of what had happened was a way to have more understanding about this unfortunate event, she said.
While the immediate concerns included hearing from friends and family and finding ways to help, she thought it was also an opportunity to understand how a scientific career could help future challenges in the Tongan islands, Dr Moata’ane said.
"There are all sorts of opportunities that we can learn about that will help and service our community."
She suggested a geology scholarship for a Tongan student could help them learn more about challenges the islands would continue to face.
Dr Moata’ane said she wanted to thank all the people in Dunedin who had offered kind messages to the Tongan community.
"That means a lot — we can’t thank them enough."
Mr Taungapeau also thanked people who had shown their concern for the Tongan community.
"We appreciate what they are saying."