Tsunami threat recedes and casualty reports are yet to come in as Tonga remains cut off

Much of the country has sustained serious damage, a report quoting Tongan prime minister said

Maroosha Muzaffar
Sunday 16 January 2022 08:30
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<p>Satellite image shows the undersea volcano erupting </p>

Satellite image shows the undersea volcano erupting

The tsunami threat receded around the Pacific on Sunday even as Tonga remained almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world.

The tsunami, caused by an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, left the Pacific island nation largely uncontactable, with electricity, internet and telephone lines severed. There was no update on any casualties in Tonga as government websites could not be updated.

The Pacific tsunami warning centre (PTWC) said the threat had receded but coastal areas should remain alert. The US and Japan earlier warned people to move away from coastal areas.

Reports said that beyond Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, no contact has been established in any coastal areas.

On Sunday, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust but otherwise “conditions are calm and stable”.

On Saturday, the eruption of volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai was so loud that residents in faraway Fiji and New Zealand said they heard it. Several people in Fiji and other islands also said they could feel their houses shaking.

Satellite images showed plumes of ash and dust over Tonga, with smoke rosing about 12 miles above sea level.

Ms Ardern said the main undersea communications cable was impacted but that in some areas of the island, power has been restored.

And even though official figures were unavailable, boats, shops and other infrastructure were damaged in Tonga’s capital according to the New Zealand high commission.

Tonga’s cabinet also held an emergency crisis meeting on Sunday. Reuters reported that Australia is sending surveillance aircraft to the country on Monday to help assess the damage.

The Associated Press quoted Sanya Ruggiero, a consulting communications advisor based in Suva, Fiji’s capital, some 750km from Tonga, as saying: “My entire house was shaking. My doors, windows were all rattling like hell. And mine was not even as bad as others. Hundreds of people ran out of their homes.”

Many living in the areas worst affected were evacuated to safer places, reports said.

“This is the worst disaster Tonga has had in living memory and the recovery from this is going to take years,” Ms Ruggiero said.

Experts said the ash from the undersea volcanic eruption could contaminate water resources and might cause respiratory illnesses.

“Help will be needed to restore drinking water supplies. People of Tonga must also remain vigilant for further eruptions and especially tsunami with short notice and should avoid low lying areas,” Shane Cronin, volcanologist at the University of Auckland was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has also pledged to provide support for Tonga.

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