Tongans Survived Cyclone Gita because of Mormon Chapels

Destroyed parliament building, Tonga, via

Tongans are faith-loving people. So much so, that Tonga closes down on Sundays. If stores had opened the Sunday before Hurricane Gita, a Category 4 devastating storm, perhaps people would have been better supplied, but most important was secure shelter, and that’s hard to come by in Tonga. New Zealand posted an article focused on the destroyed churches of Tonga, juxtaposed against the gratitude people feel for the lack of casualties. Church buildings of many Christian faiths were badly damaged by the storm.

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Talafo’ou village’s Free Wesleyan Church after Cyclone Gita ripped away its roof and ceiling. Via


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A wooden church in Lavengatonga after the storm. Via
destroyed church in tonga
A destroyed church just east of Nuku’alofa. Via

Sione Tukuafu, a 23-year-old Mormon rugby player, said the sight of any damaged church was an emotional ordeal for his highly religious countrymen.

“I don’t know how to explain, but it hurts us,” he said. “I walk past them every day now and feel pretty sad.”

Finding Protection with the Mormons

Around 6,000 people sought shelter in churches the night of the terrible storm. Many survived even though walls slanted and most roofs were blown off.

But the National Emergency Management Office’s logistics advisor Graham Kenna said Tonga’s sturdily built Mormon churches were responsible for the lack of cyclone-related deaths in the kingdom that night. Mormon churches in Tonga are built out of bricks to American standards, he said, and were known to withstand powerful storms better than the often simply constructed local homes.

Mormon chapels have welcomed people during disasters all over the world. This is just the latest example.

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Mormon cousins Naitoko Salesi and James Naitok walk home from church on the first Sunday after the cyclone. Via

Gale Boyd is the managing editor for She is a Jewish convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has lived all over the world. She has raised 6 Third Culture Kids and is always homesick for somewhere.