Tonga volcano eruption: Man who grew up on now-destroyed Mango Island describes pain of close relative dying in tsunami

A man who grew up on the island of Mango in Tonga says he's devastated that one of his relatives has been killed and all homes on the island that he calls a "little paradise" have been wiped out. 

Mango Island is part of the Ha'apai Island group and was one of the closest to the volcano when it erupted, producing a tsunami the Tongan government says generated waves up to 15 metres high.

Aucklander Mote Pahulu was born on Nomuka Island and grew up on neighbouring Mango Island. 

"We're absolutely devastated. Not only have we lost a relative, a very close relative, but everything else on the little island is gone," he tells Newshub.

"It was a beautiful little island, it was a little paradise."

He says his relative, 65-year-old Teisa Kafoika, was killed when the island was hit by the waves.

"The wife of one of my cousins - it's very sad," Pahalu says.

"Her and her husband have been outstanding doing everything on the island."

The damage on Mango has been described as "catastrophic".

"One person was saying that the ash covered the whole island and if you sink your index finger into the ground it will disappear into the ash that covered the ground," Pahulu says.

Jonathan Veitch, the acting United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator, painted a grim picture of the aftermath on Mango Island.

"All houses were destroyed on Mango Island and we have to count exactly how many that is, and exactly what the population was that's been displaced and evacuated," he says.

Pictures show the debris-strewn streets along the western coast of Tonga's main island, Tongatapu. Trees are also upended and homes are damaged.

Tonga volcano eruption: Man who grew up on now-destroyed Mango Island describes pain of close relative dying in tsunami
Photo credit: Newshub.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families who are very anxious about what's happened in Tonga, those who are here in New Zealand, and also those who are experiencing the hardships," says Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

There's been "catastrophic damage" on Atata Island too, which is just north of Tongatapu, prompting the evacuation of just over 100 residents to the capital, Nuku'alofa.

Fonoifua Island's 69 residents and Mango's 36 are being taken to Nomuka Island. 

"Two of those islands, Mango and Fonoiufia, will undergo an evacuation of the numbers that are there and our Navy vessels may well be in a position to help with that effort," Mahuta adds.

The Tongan government has called this an "unprecedented disaster".

New Zealand's Navy vessels are on their way, but it'll take them until Friday at the earliest.

The C-130 is also delayed until the ash is cleared from Tongatapu's airport.

Phone network provider Digicel is trying to establish a 2G connection, which would provide limited and patchy phone services, covering about 10 percent of normal capacity. 

The undersea cable which supports Tonga's internet services could take up to four weeks for the connection to be repaired.