Despite huge volcano blast, Tonga avoids widespread disaster

Tongas government said all the homes on Mango island where about 36 people live were destroyed and only two houses remained standing on Fonoifua island, home to about 69 people.The government described the event as an unprecedented disaster and said tsunami waves had risen as high as 15 meters 49 feet in places.Like other island nations in the Pacific, Tonga is regularly exposed to the extremes of nature, whether it be cyclones or earthquakes, making people more resilient to the challenges they bring.Indeed, Greenwood said Tonga does not want an influx of aid workers following the eruption.


PTI | Wellington | Updated: 19-01-2022 04:26 IST | Created: 19-01-2022 04:26 IST
Despite huge volcano blast, Tonga avoids widespread disaster
  • Country:
  • New Zealand

The blast from the volcano could be heard in Alaska, and the waves crossed the ocean to cause an oil spill and two drownings in Peru. The startling satellite images resembled a massive nuclear explosion.

And yet, despite sitting almost on top of the volcano that erupted so violently on Saturday, the Pacific nation of Tonga appears to have avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.

In its first update since the eruption, the government said Tuesday it has confirmed three deaths — two local residents and a British woman. Concerns remain over the fate of people on some of the hard-hit smaller islands, where many houses were destroyed. Communications have been down everywhere, making assessments more difficult.

But on Tonga's main island of Tongatapu, perhaps the biggest problem is the ash that has transformed it into a gray moonscape, contaminating the rainwater that people rely on to drink. New Zealand's military is sending fresh water and other much-needed supplies, but said Tuesday the ash covering Tonga's main runway will delay the flight at least another day. On Tongatapu, at least, life is slowly returning to normal. The tsunami that swept over coastal areas after the eruption was frightening for many but rose only about 80 centimeters (2.7 feet), allowing most to escape.

“We did hold grave fears, given the magnitude of what we saw in that unprecedented blast,” said Katie Greenwood, the head of delegation in the Pacific for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Fortunately, in those major population centers we are not seeing the catastrophic effect we thought might happen, and that's very good news.” Greenwood, who is based in Fiji and has been talking with people in Tonga by satellite phone, said an estimated 50 homes were destroyed on Tongatapu but that nobody needed to use emergency shelters. She said about 90 people on the nearby island of 'Eua were using shelters.

U.N. humanitarian officials and Tonga's government reported significant infrastructural damage around Tongatapu and concerns about the lack of contact from some of the low-lying islands. The Geneva-based U.N World Health Organization reported that many people remained unaccounted for.

New Zealand's High Commission in Tonga also reported significant damage along the western coast of Tongatapu, including to resorts and the waterfront area. Tonga's government said all the homes on Mango island — where about 36 people live — were destroyed and only two houses remained standing on Fonoifua island, home to about 69 people.

The government described the event as an “unprecedented disaster” and said tsunami waves had risen as high as 15 meters (49 feet) in places.

Like other island nations in the Pacific, Tonga is regularly exposed to the extremes of nature, whether it be cyclones or earthquakes, making people more resilient to the challenges they bring.

Indeed, Greenwood said Tonga does not want an influx of aid workers following the eruption. Tonga is one of the few remaining places in the world that has managed to avoid any outbreaks of the coronavirus, and officials fear that if outsiders bring in the virus it could create a much bigger disaster than the one they're already facing.

Another worry, said Greenwood, is that the volcano could erupt again. She said there is currently no working equipment around it which could help predict such an event.

Satellite images captured the spectacular eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific. The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

Two people drowned in Peru, which also reported the oil spill after waves moved a ship that was transferring oil at a refinery.

In Tonga, British woman Angela Glover, 50, was one of those who died after being swept away by a wave, her family said.

Nick Eleini said his sister's body had been found and that her husband survived. “I understand that this terrible accident came about as they tried to rescue their dogs,” Eleini told Sky News. He said it had been his sister's life dream to live in the South Pacific and “she loved her life there.” Tonga's government said a 65-year-old woman on Mango island and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka island had also died, while a number of other people had suffered injuries.

New Zealand's military said it hoped the airfield in Tonga would be opened either Wednesday or Thursday. The military said it had considered an airdrop but that was “not the preference of the Tongan authorities.”

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Give Feedback