Tonga underwater volcanic eruption that triggered tsunami captured by space satellite
Three people are confirmed dead in Tonga - including one British national - and all homes on one island have been destroyed, says the government after an underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami on Saturday devastated the Polynesian country.
Telecommunication bosses say the islands could be cut off from the world for weeks, after an undersea cable was severed and the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai volcano left the country covered in ash.
Fears of a possible humanitarian crisis developing in Tonga are growing as details of the damage of Saturday’s natural disaster are learned.
Samiuela Fonua, the chairperson of the state-owned Tonga Cable Ltd which owns and operates the cable, told the Guardian that repair operations to fix the damage could take two weeks but warned of the threat of continuing volcanic activity to efforts, which would need to enter the Tongatapu waters close to the site of the eruption.
New Zealand and Australia have conducted surveillance flights to assess the damage with images revealing Tonga covered in a blanket of ash, hampering relief efforts as the nation’s airport runways are also compromised.
New Zealand’s Acting High Commissioner to Tonga, Peter Lund, said the local government had declared a state of emergency.
That is all for our coverage on the Tonga volcanic eruption and tsunami today.
Thank you for reading our live updates and for more news on Tonga, click here.
Tonga volcano and tsnuma: What we know so far
The eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga has caused widespread devastation in the Polynesian country and its islands.
The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano sent tsunami waves around the world on Saturday, impacting countries such as Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.
The initial blast could be seen by satellites in space, and the extent of the impact on the country - situated near Fiji, New Zealand and Australia - is not yet understood due to limited contact.
The blast caused a undersea communication cable to sever, resulting in little to no communication with Tongan residents and aid workers since the tsunami.
Australia and New Zealand are in the process of sending relief to the nation, and a humanitarian crisis is a possibility.
Before and after images of Tonga volcano show damage scale
Images before and after the aftermath of the Tonga volcanic explosion show the scale of the damage to the Polynesian nation.
Volcanic ash and fumes have overtaken the country’s small islands and devastated communities, with all homes on the island of Mango being destroyed by the blast and subsequent tsunami.
Plane surveillance images shared by The Telegraph show what experts are predicting to be the beginnings of a climate problem and humanitarian crisis.
Health warnings issues over volcanic ash
Tongan residents are being advised to stay indoors after the volcanic explosion showered ash over the country’s islands.
Gas, smoke and debris from the underwater volcano blasted up to 20km into the sky, and while volcanic activity has significantly decreased, the government is continuing to monitor the situation.
Locals have been advised to drink bottled water and to wear masks if they do go outdoors, in order to avoid breathing in volcanic ash.
Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, told the BBC: “There will be health concerns as people are breathing it, especially with a huge clean-up mission that is happening in Tonga now.
“About 200 volunteers, people coming to sweep the runway for the airport. We have to do it but we know that there will be a long-term problem because people are breathing this ash, which is very dangerous.”
Volunteers are sweeping airport runways to make it possible for aid from other countries to arrive in Tonga.
Over $375,000 raised for Tonga relief
Over $375,000 has been raised to aid the relief effort in Tonga following the country’s volcanic eruption and tsunami.
A GoFundMe created by Tongan Olympian, Pita Taufatofua, has received over 7,000 donations in just two days.
The ongoing fundraiser aims to raise funds to provide assistance to those affected by the natural disaster and help with immediate relief efforts.
The fundraiser’s goal is to raise $1 million Australian dollars for the cause along with posting regular updates on the situation in Tonga.
Tongan Olympian unable to contact family since tsunami
Tongan Olympian athlete, Pita Taufatofua, has not been able to contact his family since the tsunami struck the county.
Mr Taufatofua, a dual-sport athlete in taekwondo and cross-country skiing, is among many who have not been able to contact their loved ones in Tongo since communication to the country was lost following the volcanic eruption.
On Twitter on January 15, he said: “No word from my Father or Family in Haapai. All communication in Tonga is out.”
In a later Tweet, he said: “Many Tongans around the World are in the exact same situation as me, thinking of and unable to contact their family in the islands. My situation is not unique.”
Mr Taufatofua, who currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, has still not able to speak with his father – who he says is the Governor of Ha’apai, a group of Tongan islands - or other family members.
Tonga’s volcanic eruption could harm environment for years, scientists say
The impact of Tonga’s volcanic eruption could harm local coral reefs, fisheries and coastlines for years to come, scientists say.
Since the initial eruption on January 15, the volcano has been releasing fumes of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide which could result in acid rain when they make contact with water and oxygen in the atmosphere.
“There is likely to be acid rain around Tonga for a while to come” due to Tonga’s tropical climate, said volcanologist Shane Cronin at the University of Auckland to Reuters.
Acid rain can cause widespread damage to crops, potentially ruining Tongan staples like taro, corn, bananas and garden vegetables.
In the ocean, the ash from the volcanic eruption could be toxic to sea and marine life.
Corals and coastlines could also be impacted, as the blast causes more damaging iron to be released into the water and the subsequent tsunami erodes coastlines.
This is particularly concerning for Tonga, where climate change is driving sea levels to rise by about six millimeters per year — double the global average, according to Reuters.
Hundreds of Bitcoin donations made for Tonga relief funds
Tongan politician and crypto-currency advocate, Lord Fusitu’a, set up the fund and the BTC wallet has received more than $40,000 through 250 separate donations within three days of going live.
Anthony Cuthbertson has the full story:
More than $40,000 already raised by Tongan politician and crypto advocate Lord Fusitu’a
China to donate $100,000 to Tonga relief effort
A spokesperson for China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, has sent condolences to the government and people of Tonga, and said the Red Cross Society of China will donate $100,000 of humanitarian aid to the country.
They said: “We will offer assistance to the best of our capacity based on the situation and the needs of Tonga.”
The country’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, also said: “We’re ready to help the Tonga government & people overcome this disaster and rebuild their homeland to the best of our capabilities.”
Tonga government release first official statement after disaster, confirming three casualties
The government of Tonga have released their first official statement after the volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated the country.
The government confirmed three casualties, including 50-year-old British national, Angela Glover, a 65-year-old woman from Mango island and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka island. A number of injuries have also been reported.
Emergency help teams are prioritising aid to the islands of Mango, Nomuka and Fonoifua as all reportedly suffered severe damage, with all homes on Mango island destroyed and just two remaining on Fonoifua.
The country also reported severe disruption to its domestic and international communication and internet services, due to the severing of an underwater cable. As of January 18, some communication has been made with the islands of Vava’u and Ha’apai and domestic calls are operating within Tongatapu and ‘Eua islands.
Evacuation processes are underway on affected islands, and challenges to sea and air travel remain due to the extent of the blast’s damage.
They said: “Even though the tsunami warning has been cancelled and volcanic activity has significantly decreased, monitoring efforts continue.”
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