Disasters & Accidents

Tonga hit by ‘unprecedented disaster’, government says

(Update 1: changes headline, changes lede, adds government statement)

Sydney, Jan 18 (EFE).- The government of Tonga said on Tuesday it had been hit by an “unprecedented disaster” in its first official statement since a volcano whose violent eruption triggered a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean over the weekend.

Three people have been confirmed dead after the explosion recorded on Saturday, one of the most powerful in three decades.

The three fatalities include two locals and a British woman.

The government statement comes three days after the eruption of the volcano after the single undersea cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world was damaged, hampering communications.

The statement said all houses on the Mango island had been damaged while only two remain standing on Fonoifua island.

Two military ships from the New Zealand army have been deployed to bring humanitarian aid to some of the worst affected areas, which are suffering a drinking water shortage.

Recent photographs from the United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) reveal that only two portions of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apa volcano, located about 65 kilometers north of Tongatapu — the country’s most populous island — remain above sea level.

Before the powerful blast, these two surviving portions — part of the underwater volcano’s cone — were much larger and linked by a tongue of land up to 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) wide.

Australia and New Zealand have sent reconnaissance flights to Tonga, made up of 169 islands and with a population of 105,000, to assess the damage caused by the eruption and tsunami, which also affected the coasts of the United States, Peru, Japan and Australia, among other countries.

Meanwhile, American company Planet, which has a network of 150 satellites, on Tuesday released aerial images of the devastation caused by the tsunami in Tonga.

“As the clouds clear, ashfall from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano is visible on Tongatapu,” the company said in a message on Twitter alongside the images.

One of the photographs shows a coastal settlement with around 100 buildings and the nearby forests covered by a dense blanket of ash.

The thunderous eruption of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai, a submarine volcano with a long history of activity and located between two islets — which are sometimes joined by the ash accumulated between them — could be heard hundreds of kilometers away and seen clearly from satellites in the Earth’s orbit. EFE


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