• Visiting Tongan PM pulls out of visit to grieving workers at last minute but gives no reason
• Church services start tonight in community to mourn the victims
• Large number of people expected to travel from Auckland
• Families now waiting for bodies to be released and decisions will be made about burials


The visiting Tongan Prime Minister has pulled out of a visit with grieving families and friends of five men killed in a horror car smash in Katikati.

Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva is in New Zealand for his first official state visit.

The closely knit Tongan community in the small Bay of Plenty town was expecting their nation's political leader to join them today as they mourn the loss of five workers in a tragic crash on Tuesday.

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However Katikati seasonal employer liaison officer Sefita Hao'uli said word came late last night that Pohiva was no longer going to visit the stricken community.

"We were preparing to have him here today but told late last night that he was unable," he said.

No reason was given for the sudden change.

"We were surprised that he was unable to make it. It's a bit unusual to say the least."

But the Tongan Consul said there was never any official arrangement for the leader to go to Katikati and other "issues" had come up.

Stafford Aho said the main issue was that the bodies had not been released which meant the Prime Minister could not meet them.

"He was supposed to go there and meet the victims but nothing is certain yet when the bodies will be released," he said.

"The bodies are not ready to be seen and bodies will be taken to Tonga. He will be in Tonga ready to meet them when the bodies are ready to be taken over."

The Prime Minister also had other commitments before he returned to Tonga later this week.

Meanwhile a Givealittle page has been set up to raise money for the families of the five victims of Tuesday night's crash between a car and truck on State Highway 2 as the men left from work at the Aongatete Coolstores.

Father and son Koli Vaipulu and Sitiveni Vaipulu, and brothers-in-law Samuela Taukatelata and Sione Teulaka and New Zealand resident Halani Fine were killed in the crash.

Hao'uli said the money would make a huge difference for the families dependent on the wages from the seasonal employment.

"The financial contribution will always be welcomed by the affected families - not so much now, because I think we can cope with the demands of the moment, but later on once the tragic upheaval begins to settle," said Hao'uli.

He said families were hoping to hear today when the bodies of the men would be returned to them.

An evening church service would be held in Katikati marking a time of mourning. The services would continue until the bodies were released to the families.

A large number of people were expected to attend from Auckland and a large venue was being sought.

He said some families would hold funerals in New Zealand but others would want their loved ones returned to Tonga.