“Like an apocalyptic movie”
“It was deafening and very scary,” says ANZ’s Country Head in Tonga David Dudley, who was in the capital Nuku'alofa at the time of the eruption. “It was a day none of us ever want to go through again. It was like an apocalyptic movie - the ash fall was intense and it’s everywhere.”
With the volcano still active, Tonga remains on high alert, its 170-odd islands vulnerable to further eruptions and possible tsunamis.
“The smaller outer islands close to the volcano were badly affected and we are hearing harrowing stories of survival,” David says. “Unfortunately there has been some loss of life but thankfully we do know how to prepare for tsunamis and this saved a lot of lives.”
The islands lie 2000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand and on what's known as the Pacific Rim of Fire for its prolific earthquakes and volcanic activity. Tonga now faces water and electricity outages and, with communications still down, it is difficult to assess the full damage.
“The western part of Tongatapu was the worst affected with all the resorts, homes and villages on the coast completely destroyed by waves as high as 5-10 metres.”
ANZ staff and their immediate family in Tonga were safe and unharmed although ash continues to be a major challenge.
“It has been an exhausting week but I have never been more proud to work with a team that is so dedicated - to still turn up to the office to serve customers, even when their own property has been damaged,” David says. “It has been very windy with ash everywhere, so staff are wearing masks and gloves, and keeping hydrated. It will be a massive clean-up but we are taking it one day at a time.”
Despite the scale of the disruption, and significant damage to the Southern Cross communications cable, ANZ’s branches have been able to re-open after an extensive cleaning effort.
“Many of our customers will need assistance and I have assured them we are here to support,” says David. “We have either visited or made contact with all our customers, with the exception of the outer islands, where communications are still down.”
“We remain strong and committed, and pray the worst is over,” says David.
ANZ is donating $AU50,000 to the Red Cross to support Tonga’s rebuild.