A dozen Tongan RSE workers in Hawke's Bay have lost their homes to a tsunami caused by Saturday's volcanic eruption.
One of them was on the phone to her daughter and bed-ridden mother as the tsunami swept through her house. She hasn't heard from either of them since.
The RSE workers at NP Vesty orchard in Flaxmere all lived on the island of Atata, close to the capital.
The Tongan government has said most of the island's homes and buildings were wiped out by the tsunami.
Atata and Mango islands are 50km-70km from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, which sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean when it erupted.
Suliana Kata, team leader of the RSE workers, said Atata, with a population of about 100 people, was the worst impacted in Tonga because it was closest to the volcano.
"The tsunami wiped out our homes, there's nothing and no one there any more – everything is destroyed. 12 of us have lost our homes."
She said she was speaking to her mother and daughter via a video call as the tsunami hit.
"My mum is 81 and bed-ridden, she can't walk, and I was talking to my mum and my daughter when the first wave came.
"My daughter was trying to hold on to my mum, and I kept saying to her to not let go."
Her daughter held the phone up, and the waves kept hitting them "the first, then the second wave", and her daughter desperately held on to the phone and to Kata's mother.
"I told them to go on to higher ground, and my daughter was crying while holding on to my mother not knowing what to do."
Both got out of their homes, but got stuck trying to climb up to higher ground on the island, Kata said.
"I thought that was it, they were gone. It's the last time I heard from them."
The only updates she's heard since have been through the news seeping through from Tonga, including one photograph she believed a family member had taken.
"The people on the island were evacuated by the army to the main island of Nuku'alofa, the capital.
"Our island is wiped, it's gone. None of us have talked to our families."
Fellow RSE worker Simione Fomua, who along with Kata and others, has been in Hawke's Bay since 2019 said the silence around the whereabouts of his family was deafening.
"I haven't seen my wife and kids since 2019, and I don't know where they are now. I have been waiting to hear something, but no one tells me anything.
"It is so hard, I don't know what's happened to my wife and kids or my parents."
He said he felt helpless, and just wanted his family to be OK.
On Tuesday night the government of Tonga deemed the destruction an "unprecedented disaster".
Search and rescue operations on Atata island and Ahau village began on Sunday, a statement from the PM's office said.
"Challenges to sea and air transportation remain due to damage sustained by the wharves and the ash that is covering the runways."
Domestic phone calls were only operating within Tongatapu and 'Eua, and internet facilities are not up and running because of widespread damage to fibreoptic cables under the sea near the eruption site.