The underwater volcanic explosion near the Tonga Islands on Jan. 15 generated a tsunami that cut off phone and Internet connection, thus isolating the Pacific island from the rest of the world and causing serious damage to the capital Nuku’alofa.
Satellite photographs display the smoke and ash in the air for the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption. The blast was heard 10,000 kilometers away in Alaska.
Because communications had been severely limited by the severance of an undersea cable, information on the extent of the devastation following Saturday’s eruption had primarily come from reconnaissance planes.
The tsunami affected a population of over 100,000, in a country of 176 islands, of which only 36 are inhabited.
In the first official update, according to CNN, on Tuesday Jan. 18, Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said, “An unprecedented disaster hit Tonga.”
Tonga’s government confirmed the deaths of three people and several other injured. Regarding material damages, all houses on the Island of Mango—home to about 50 people—were destroyed.
Only two buildings remained in the nearby Island of Fonoifua, where about 70 people live, while the place that registered extensive damages was Nomuka Island, which has a population of roughly 500 people, Reuters reported.
As for Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island and the most populated, the devastation was not as serious as initially thought: 50 houses were destroyed, 100 damaged, and no evacuation centers were open, as people stayed with near relatives.
Damages and casualties
Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, had previously indicated that photographs collected by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) showed “alarming” views of a town destroyed on Mango island and houses missing on Atata island, which is closer to the volcano.”People panic, people run and get injuries. Possibly there will be more deaths and we just pray that is not the case,” Tu’ihalangingie told Reuters.
After the eruption, the volcano vanished beneath the water surface, making it difficult to monitor subsequent activity, though specialists do not rule out the chance of another eruption. According to The Conversation, the volcano’s tip used to be roughly 100 meters high, with the entire mountain rising to 1,800 meters and stretching for 20 kilometers. Despite the fact that eruptions have become more common in recent decades, eruptions of this magnitude only happen once every few thousand years.
Atata and Mango lie between 50 and 70 kilometers from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which erupted with a boom audible 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand, sending tsunami waves throughout the Pacific Ocean.
Tsunami waves of up to 15 meters impacted the Ha’apai island group, which includes Mango, and the west coast of Tongatapu, Tonga’s biggest island, according to the office. Residents were being relocated to evacuation centers after 56 homes on the coast were demolished or severely damaged.
In addition to the British national whose body was discovered on Monday, Sovaleni’s office stated a 65-year-old woman on Mango and a 49-year-old man on Nomuka island died. There were also a handful of injuries recorded.
The caldera of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai has collapsed, according to satellite photos taken on Sunday, and the island has lost a significant portion of its original surface area, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
On Sunday, a rescue operation for Atata, which has a population of around 100 people, began, with an evacuation underway.
The PM’s office stated that “challenges to sea and air transportation remain due to damage sustained by the wharves and the ash that is covering the runways.”
According to aerial photographs sent to Tonga by New Zealand and Australia, the islands are covered in a heavy coating of ash. The primary airport in the archipelago, Fua’amotu International Airport, was not damaged, although ash had to be manually cleaned from the runway, with the earliest opening scheduled for Wednesday, according to the OCHA.
Aside from the immediate destruction, scientists believe the eruption will have a long-term impact on coral reefs, coastlines, and fisheries around the region, as well as creating acid rain. Oil spilt from a discharge ship shaken by waves produced by the explosion contaminated parts of Peru’s coast, according to Peruvian Environment Minister Ruben Ramirez.
According to the OCHA, clean water sources remain a problem, and the government of Tonga has urged residents to consume only bottled water because sources may be contaminated with ash, debris, and sea water.
The Tongan navy has dispatched further supplies to the Ha’apai islands, including health teams, water, food, and tents, according to the prime minister’s office.
Tarpaulins were utilized as a shelter on Mango, one of the kingdom’s 176 islands, according to NZDF photographs uploaded on Facebook and confirmed by Tu’ihalangingie.
Communication and aid
Tonga is anticipated to make formal requests for assistance soon, but in the meantime, the HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, two New Zealand ships, have set out with water supplies, survey teams, and a helicopter. According to the OCHA, UN teams are standing by.
The stillness was unbearable for relatives waiting for word. “The scariest fear is never seeing the people you love again,” said Seini Taumoepeau, a Tongan-Australian in Sydney with relatives all around the islands.
According to New Zealand, international mobile phone network provider Digicel has established an interim system on the main island utilizing the satellite dish of the University of the South Pacific.
Subcom, a private firm based in the U.S that is hired to repair subsea cables in the Asia-Pacific, announced that it is working with Tonga Cable Ltd to restore the link that connects Tonga and Fiji.
Tonga Cable’s chair, Samiuela Fonua, said two cuts in the undersea cable would not be repaired until volcanic activity subsided, allowing repair personnel access.