Tonga volcano: New photographs show extent of destruction from tsunami

Debris from destroyed buildings covers capital city as nations plan aid missions

Liam James
Wednesday 19 January 2022 19:53
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Australia sends aid to Tonga after volcanic eruption

Newly-released photographs have shown the devastation caused in Tonga by a tsunami triggered by an underwater volcanic eruption.

Hundreds of homes in the country’s smaller outer islands were destroyed and at least three people killed after the eruption. Three islands were said to have lost most of their buildings.

The Red Cross said its teams in Tonga had confirmed that salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash were polluting the drinking water of tens of thousands of people.

Photographs posted online by the Consulate of the Kingdom of Tonga show large areas of Nuku’alofa, the capital city, covered with a thick layer of ash.

Nuku’alofa is located on Tongatapu, the largest of the Pacific archipelago’s 176 islands, and is home to around three-quarters of Tonga’s 105,000 people.

Coastal areas of the city were seen strewn with debris from trees and buildings swept away by the waves.

Fallen trees and household debris cover a residential area of Nuku’alofa

People were seen working together to clear the streets and inspect the ruins of their homes.

Earlier satellite images showed ash and dust clouding over Tonga, with smoke rising about 12 miles above sea level.

Communications have been down throughout Tonga since the eruption on Saturday.

Car covered in a thick layer of ash after eruption

The volcano damaged its sole undersea fibre-optic communication cable and its owner said it could be more than one month before the cable is fixed.

A ship reached the outlying islands of Nomuka, Mango and Fonoifua on Wednesday and reported that few homes were left standing.

Katie Greenwood, the head of Red Cross in the Pacific, which had two people aboard the ship, said: “Very unfortunate information has come to light overnight about the three islands that we were really worried about, that they have all suffered devastating consequences as an effect of these incoming waves.

Parts of buildings on Tongaptu coast remain standing amid debris

“Most of the structures and dwellings on those islands have been completely destroyed.”

Tonga's main airport, Fua'amotu International, was not damaged by the tsunami but was covered in ash which had to be cleared by hand.

A Tongan official said it might be possible for aid flights from New Zealand and Australia to begin on Thursday.

Destruction by the coast in Nuku’alofa

Tonga appears ready to receive assistance from abroad after initial concerns over importing Covid-19. It is one of the few countries to be free of the Omicron variant.

Children in Tonga’s capital amid debris left in the tsunami’s wake

Australia said it was ready to deploy two aircraft with humanitarian supplies and telecommunications equipment. A naval ship with water purification equipment and additional humanitarian supplies was preparing to depart Brisbane.

New Zealand said it was sending two ships with water supplies that would arrive on Friday.

As well as emergency supplies, the two countries have promised immediate financial assistance.

The US Agency for International Development approved $100,000 (£73,375) in immediate assistance, and Japan said it would give more than $1m in aid as well as drinking water and equipment to clear ash.

The Asian Development Bank said it was discussing with Tonga whether it would declare a state of emergency to draw on a $10m disaster facility.

China said it would send help including water and food when the airport opened.

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Additional reporting by agencies

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