Volcanic mountains

Volcanic eruption devastates Tonga – The Diplomat

In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, volcanic ash covers rooftops and vegetation in an area of ​​Tonga, Monday, January 17, 2022.

Credit: CPL Vanessa Parker/NZDF via AP)

The Government of Tonga has released its first declaration since a violent volcanic eruption took place on Saturday and caused havoc across the country, leaving at least three people dead, cities destroyed and the country without internet for several days.

“Following the eruption, a volcanic mushroom plume was released reaching the stratosphere and spreading radially covering all of the Tonga Islands, generating tsunami waves of up to 15 meters, hitting the western shores of the Tongatapu Islands, ‘Eva and Ha’apai,” the government said.

“To date, there are 3 confirmed deaths including a British national; a 65-year-old woman from Mango Island; and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka Island. There are also a number of reported injuries.

The government said that there was not a single house left on Mango Island, only two houses remained on Fonoifua Island and that extensive damage had been caused to other islands. He added that evacuation efforts are underway across the country.

The volcanic ash that blanketed Tonga severely affected water supplies and made any effort by Tonga’s neighbors to fly in support extremely dangerous.

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“Challenges to shipping and air transport remain due to damage to docks and ash covering runways,” the government said. “Domestic and international flights have been postponed until further notice as airports are being cleaned.”

The government added that communication is still a key issue, with the internet still down while domestic phone calls can only work in Tongatapu and ‘Eua areas.

The country could be without internet for up to two weeks with the undersea communications cables that connect Tonga to the rest of the world damaged.

Samiuela Fonua, chairwoman of state-owned Tonga Cable Ltd, which owns and operates the cables, told the Guardian that take time to repair due to the risks that a subsequent volcanic eruption could endanger a repair vessel.

“The main concern now is volcanic activity because our cables are pretty much over the same area,” he said.

Modeling suggests there will be continued eruptions over the next few weeks, with continued tsunami risk for Tonga and its neighbors.

Photos leaked online from a New Zealand Defense Force reconnaissance flight to Tonga show extensive damage across much of the country, with photos of Mango Island labeled as having ‘catastrophic damage’ .

Tonga’s deputy head of mission to Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, said the footage was “alarming”.

“People are panicking, running and getting injured. There may be more deaths and we just pray that this is not the case,” he told Reuters.

Tonga is made up of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. It is expected to take weeks to assess the extent of the damage.

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Australia has so far committed AU$1 million in funding for Tonga and sent the combat ship HMAS Adelaide loaded with medical and engineering equipment and personnel. Australian helicopters will use the ship as a base to serve populations on the outer islands. The Australian C130 Hercules aircraft will also depart for Tonga once the runway is clear. Further funding is expected once Australia receives detailed advice from the Tongan government.

New Zealand also allocated NZ$1 million in funding and said once the runway was cleared it would send its own C130 Hercules flight with humanitarian aid.

“In the meantime, two Royal New Zealand Navy ships will depart New Zealand today. HMNZS Wellington will carry hydrographic survey and dive teams, as well as an SH-2G(I) Seasprite helicopter. HMNZS Aotearoa will carry bulk water supplies and stores for humanitarian and disaster relief,” Defense Minister Peeni Hernare said.

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

Tonga is currently COVID-free and has strict border controls to keep the virus out. Continuing to keep COVID-19 out while delivering aid will present significant challenges for the country.