The island state of Tonga is still difficult to reach after the volcanic eruption. According to initial findings, however, there is “extensive damage”. Satellite photos show a picture of the destruction.
Even days after the massive eruption of the submarine volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai in the Pacific, the extent of the damage and the number of possible victims are still unclear. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there was no contact specifically with the Ha’apai archipelago.
According to the New Zealand government, two deaths have been confirmed so far. A 50-year-old British woman who lived with her husband in Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, was pulled into the sea by the tsunami and died, her brother told British media on Monday. There was initially no information about the other dead.
After the tsunami triggered by the volcano, there is particular concern about the low-lying islands of Mango and Fonoi. The UN said a signal had been received from an emergency beacon on Mango Island, which is just a little above sea level. OCHA said surveillance flights found “significant property damage” on Mango. More than 30 people live there, according to the latest census of Tonga.
Satellite imagery of Tongan capital Nuku’alofa: the port area is seen before the volcanic eruption (left) and after – covered in ash and debris (right). (Source: Maxar Technologies/Reuters)
OCHA also reported “extensive damage” to the western beaches of the main island of Tongatapu. Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa was covered by two centimeters of volcanic ash and dust, sources said. The capital’s waterfront was severely damaged by the rocks and debris thrown inland by the tsunami. Australia’s Development Secretary, Zed Seselja, said a small contingent of Australian police officers stationed in Tonga had given a “rather worrying” initial assessment of the western coastal area.
International phone lines still out of service
Power has been restored to parts of the capital, as have local telephone lines. “Communication continues to be the biggest problem as the internet and international phone lines are still down,” the UN agency said. Satellite phones are the only reliable means of communicating with the outside world, but they don’t always work reliably either. “Overall, there seems to be significant damage to the infrastructure around the main island of Tongatapu.”
Many islands are said to be covered by a layer of ash. According to OCHA, the capital’s airport should be clear of the volcanic ash by Monday. Australia had said the runway must be clear of ash before military planes could land with relief supplies.
British among the victims
New Zealand wanted to send two ships with relief supplies to Tonga on Tuesday. A formal request for assistance from Tonga is still pending, but the New Zealand government wants to dispatch the ships HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa as they took three days to reach the affected region, it said. “The communication problems caused by the outbreak make this disaster relief particularly challenging,” said New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
View over Tonga: The houses are covered with ash. (Source: Vanessa Parker/NZDF/dpa)
One of the ships is primarily intended to transport urgently needed drinking water. “Water is a top priority for Tonga at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can transport 250,000 liters and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant,” Defense Secretary Peeni Henare said.
On Saturday, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai threw a gigantic cloud of ash kilometers high and triggered tsunami waves that even swept onto the coasts of Japan, Alaska and South America. The volcano is just 40 miles from Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa. The Feuerberg below the water surface is 1,800 meters high and 20 kilometers wide. The archipelago of Tonga has around 107,000 inhabitants.