The first images of Tonga volcanic eruptions show communities covered in thick ash

Aerial photos released by the New Zealand Defense Forces from Tonga’s central Ha’apai Islands show trees, houses and fields covered in gray ash – spit out of the submarine volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai when it erupted on Saturday. tsunami waves crashing across the Pacific Ocean.

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 concerned about water pollution and food safety in the district.

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

But when Tonga’s first death from the natural disaster was confirmed and rescue operations continued, relief workers warned that the true extent of the destruction remained unknown. Communication has been severely affected by the disaster – with some smaller 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 is “large-scale coastal damage due to the tsunami wave.”

“We are particularly concerned about the low-lying 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 ash fall covering the runway at the capital’s airport, according to officials from several donor countries.

The main runway at Tonga's Fua'amotu International Airport is partially blocked due to volcanic ash.

New Zealand will deploy two Royal Navy ships to its second Pacific Island nation on Tuesday, the country’s defense minister, Peeni Henare, said in a statement, adding that it would take three days to reach Tonga.

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

“Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage, and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 liters and produce 70,000 liters a day through a desalination plant,” he added.

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

Significant damage has been reported across Tonga, home to more than 100,000 people, most of whom live on the main island of Tongatapu. At least 100 homes across the archipelago have been damaged, of which at least 50 have been completely destroyed, according to Save the Children Fiji CEO Shairana Ali. But the numbers are likely to increase 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 point is to get detailed information from officials and Tonga,” Ali said, adding that they expect to see water shortage in the coming days.

An important underwater communications cable connecting Tonga to Fiji has been damaged and repairs are not expected to begin until February 1.

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

The eruption of an underwater volcano off Tonga, which triggered a tsunami warning for several island nations in the South Pacific, is seen on a satellite image taken on January 15, 2022.

Deaths in Tonga

At least two people, including a British citizen, died in Tonga after tsunami waves crashed into roads, flooding housing communities and causing power outages.

The body of British woman Angela Glover was found after she was swept away by the tsunami, her brother, Nick Eleini, said in a statement on Monday.

Glover, 50, who lived in the capital Nuku’alofa with her husband and runs a charity for animal welfare, tried to save her dogs when the waves hit, Eleini said.

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

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday was probably the largest volcanic event recorded since the 1991 eruption of the Philippines’ Pinatubo mountain, according to experts.

Photos and videos uploaded to social media immediately after showed people running away from the extensive tsunami, and the afternoon sky, which was already dark from the ash cloud. Boats and large boulders washed ashore in Nuku’alofa, with shops along the coast damaged.

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

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

It had been active since December 20, but was declared asleep on January 11, according to CNN-affiliated Radio New Zealand.

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