Tonga has been left battered by an undersea volcano eruption which triggered a tsunami to flood the Pacific Island country. Entire towns and villages have been inundated with sea water. And scientists warn that the main island could be covered in toxic volcanic ash.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption sent massive waves several feet high smashing into Tonga, across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to Canada, including the US west coast with shock waves being felt as far as Mt Hood in Oregon. The Tongan Geological Services said the cloud caused by the ash and steam reached about 150 miles, making it easily seen from satellites.
Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, told a media conference that they have been unable to establish contact with costal areas beyond Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa. “Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust but otherwise conditions are calm and stable. We have not yet received news from other coastal areas.” Ardern said the main undersea communications cable was affected. This may be because of power loss. She told the media that power was being restored in some areas on the islands and local mobile phones were slowly starting to work.
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Video footage shot from the roof of a building on the coast shows large waves breaching the coastal wall seconds apart, another video shows the downtown area of Patangata completely submerged, including Tonga’s largest bank – the Royal Palace. A video posted on YouTube shows children crying as water surrounded the building and waves lapping up against the windows.
Pita Taufatoua, a Tongan Olympian based in Australia, told The Guardian that he had not heard from his father or family in Ha’apai (the lowest lying islands in Tonga). “Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been wiped out.”
The New Zealand PM said communication as a result of eruption has been difficult, but their defence force team and ministry of foreign affairs are working to establish what’s needed and how they can help. New Zealand has also dispatched an aerial surveillance aircraft to access the damage. Australia is standing with New Zealand extending whatever assistance they can to the pacific island.
Meanwhile, the Japan Meteorological Agency warned of a tsunami surge across the country’s eastern and southern coasts, with the highest surges expected in the Amami and Tokara Islands. Rises of nearly four feet were recorded in Amami and near Kuji. California, in the US, also felt the waves. The highest surge was recorded in Port San Luis where the water reached more than four feet over normal levels. Waves topped three feet in King Cove in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.