Tonga volcano: first images after eruption show islands covered in ash, as two deaths confirmed | Tonga volcano

Ssome of the first images have emerged from Tonga’s volcano and tsunami-hit islands after a New Zealand Defense Forces surveillance flight returned from the cut-off land, as two deaths from the disaster have been confirmed in Tonga.

Aerial photography of Nomuka, a small island in the southern part of the Ha Ľapai group, shows land and trees covered in ash and other damage inflicted by the huge underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami that hit the Pacific nation on Saturday.

Kolomotu'a village, Tongatapu Division.
Kolomotu’a village, Tongatapu Division. Photo: UNOSAT

Satellite images analyzed by the UN show similar scenes in Kolomotua, Tongatapu and Fafaa Village, Kolofo’ou: While some buildings remain standing, others appear to have collapsed and the entire landscape is covered with gray ash.

At Fua’amotu International Airport, the runway appears to have been flooded and is partially covered by either ash or dirt. Other satellite images show that floods came in several blocks from the coast.

Fefe Ho Loto Golden Sands, Tatakamotonga District, Tongatapu Division.
Fefe Ho Loto Golden Sands, Tatakamotonga District, Tongatapu Division. Photo: UNOSAT

The eruption of the submarine volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, 65 km north of Tonga’s capital, is believed to be the largest volcanic event in 30 years. The first videos and photographs were posted on social media of the tsunami wave that washed in, but they were followed by silence after the main communication cable was damaged. Communication from Tonga has been extremely limited in the days since.

Tongans around the world may be forced to wait weeks for regular contact to resume after tests confirmed that the cable connecting the islands to the outside world was cut at least in one place.

A spokesman for Southern Cross Cable, which operates other submarine cable networks across the region, said tests by Fintel and Tonga Cable on Sunday afternoon “appear to confirm a probable cable break about 37km off Tonga”.

Fafaa Village, Kolofo'ou Distrcit, Tongatapu Division.
Fafaa Village, Kolofo’ou Distrcit, Tongatapu Division. Photo: UNOSAT

On Tuesday, New Zealand’s Foreign and Commerce Department said there had been two confirmed deaths in Tonga as a result of the disaster, one of which was a British citizen.

There have been no official confirmations of victims by the Tongan authorities, but the family of Angela Glover, a British woman living in Tonga who disappeared in the tsunami, reported on Monday that her body had been found.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said on Tuesday that the ashes could cause problems in getting help into the country by plane.

Before and after

“Pictures show ash fall on Nuku’alofa Airport runway to be cleared before a C-130 Hercules flight with humanitarian assistance can land,” she said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a briefing on Monday that there was significant infrastructure damage around the main island of Tongatapu. “We are particularly concerned about two small low-lying islands – Mango and Fonoi – following New Zealand’s and Australian surveillance flights confirming significant property damage,” they said.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a view of the Hunga Tonga volcano Hunga Ha'apai in Tonga on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.
Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Tuesday. Photo: AP

New Zealand has sent two naval ships with water and other aids. Mahuta said the New Zealand government had allocated an additional $ 500,000 in humanitarian aid, bringing its initial funding up to $ 1 million.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that contact had not yet been established with many coastal areas outside the capital Nuku’alofa.

Nomuka Village, Mu'omu'a District, Ha'api Division.
Nomuka Village, Mu’omu’a District, Ha’api Division. Photo: UNOSAT

“Nuku’alofa is covered in thick flags of volcanic dust, but otherwise conditions are calm and stable,” Ardern said. “We have not yet received news from other coastal areas.”

With communication severely limited, many Tongan diaspora communities are desperately waiting for news from their families.

Buildings

The Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion aircraft left Auckland on Monday morning with plans to fly over the Ha’apai group of islands, and then the main island of Tongatapu, to assess damage and see if runways were clear of subsequent planes to land.

The Australian Defense Forces also sent a surveillance aircraft on Monday to assess damage to critical infrastructure such as roads, ports and power lines.

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