First images of volcanic eruption damage in Tonga show communities covered in thick ash

Aerial photos released by the New Zealand Defense Force from Tonga’s central Ha’apai Islands show trees, houses and fields covered in gray ash – spewed by the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’ underwater volcano apai when it erupted on Saturday, sending tsunami waves crashing into the Pacific.

Satellite images show a similar scene in the capital’s Kolofo’ou district on Tonga’s main island, with trees and houses completely covered in volcanic debris. Some buildings appear to have collapsed and aid workers are now worried about contaminated water and food security in the district.

BEFORE AND AFTER: SSatellite images of the main port in Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, show the impact of the massive volcanic eruption and tsunami.

But while Tonga’s first deaths from the natural disaster have been confirmed and rescue operations have continued, aid workers have warned that the true extent of the destruction remains unknown. Communications were badly affected by the disaster, with some small islands completely cut off.

Alexander Matheou, director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that in addition to the ash, there was “large-scale coastal damage following the tsunami wave”.

“We are particularly concerned about the low islands close to the eruption itself,” he added. “At the moment, we know very little.”

The delivery of humanitarian aid to the country has been hampered by ashfall covering the capital’s airport runway, according to officials from several donor countries.

New Zealand will deploy two Royal Navy ships to its fellow Pacific islander on Tuesday, the country’s Defense Minister Peeni Henare said in a statement, adding that it would take them three days to reach Tonga.

The two ships, including HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, will carry a Seasprite helicopter, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief supplies, Peeni said.

“Water is one of Tonga’s main priorities at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 liters and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant,” he added.

An aerial view from a P-3K2 Orion surveillance flight shows heavy ash fall in Nomuka, Tonga, January 17, 2022.

Significant damage was reported in Tonga, home to more than 100,000 people, the majority of whom live on the main island of Tongatapu. At least 100 homes across the archipelago were damaged, with at least 50 completely destroyed, according to Save the Children Fiji CEO Shairana Ali. But the numbers are likely to rise as rescuers work to restore lines of communication, she added.

“This is a very unique type of crisis that we are facing due to the lack of communication…the biggest challenge at this stage is getting detailed information from the authorities and from Tonga,” he said. said Ali, adding that they expect to see water shortages. in the coming days.

A key undersea communications cable that connects Tonga to Fiji is damaged and repairs are not expected to begin until February 1.

“This cable is vitally important to Tonga for all of its digital connectivity to the rest of the world,” Southern Cross Cables Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Operations Dean Veverka said on Tuesday.

The eruption of an undersea volcano off the coast of Tonga, which has triggered a tsunami warning for several South Pacific island countries, is visible in a satellite image taken on January 15, 2022.

Deaths in Tonga

At least two people, including a British national, have died in Tonga after tsunami waves crashed onto the shore, flooding residential areas and causing power outages.

The body of Briton Angela Glover has been found after being swept away by the waves, her brother, Nick Eleini, said in a statement on Monday.

Glover, 50, who lived in the capital Nuku’alofa with her husband and ran an animal welfare charity, was trying to save her dogs when the waves hit, Eleini said.

“It was always Angela’s dream to swim with the whales, and it was Tonga that gave her the opportunity that enabled her to achieve those dreams,” Eleini said.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday was likely the largest recorded volcanic event since the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, experts say.

Photos and videos uploaded to social media immediately afterwards showed people fleeing the tsunami and the afternoon sky already dark from the ash cloud. Boats and large rocks ran aground in Nuku’alofa, and stores along the coast were damaged.

Tsunami waves were felt thousands of miles away in Hawaii, Japan and the west coast of the United States. At least two people have died in Peru due to “atypical waves”, the Peruvian national police announced on Sunday.

The volcano sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire and is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tonga’s capital.

He had been active since December 20, but was declared inactive on January 11, according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand.

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