WELLINGTON.- The first images of Tonga after the explosion of a volcano that unleashed a tsunami today showed the devastation in this Pacific archipelago, covered in ash and heavily damaged by tidal waves. The “unprecedented disaster”, as the local government pointed out, left at least three dead.
This territory was practically cut off from the rest of the world by the eruption of an underwater volcano, which cut the cable connecting the island, which now relies on patchy signals from satellite phones.
The Tongan authorities indicated that it is a “unprecedented disaster” after the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano and a subsequent tsunami, while raising the total number of deaths to three, in their first official statement since the disaster.
”As a result of the eruption, a volcanic mushroom cloud was released into the stratosphere and spread, covering all the islands of Tonga, generating 15 meter high tsunami waves that hit the western coasts of Tongatapu, Eua and Ha’apai islands”, the Government pointed out.
The monumental column of smoke from the volcano reached a height of 30 kilometers and spread ashes, gas and acid rain over a very wide area of the Pacific.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Tuesday that its local delegate, doctor Yutaro Setoya, is “directing communications between UN agencies and the Tongan government.” “Dr. Setoya’s satellite phone is one of the few sources of information,” said the agency, which said that the doctor has been standing outside all day trying to capture the signal.
The agency stated that on Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, there are 50 houses destroyed and 100 damaged. He also warned that the emanations of the volcano generate fears of contamination of water and food.
“The government recommended that the population stay indoors, wear masks if they go out, and drink bottled water.”The WHO said in a tweet.
Satellite images show that the submarine volcano located to the north of the archipelago was once again submerged and only two small islets of lava emerged.
“What we saw above the sea, which has now been washed away, was just the tip of the volcano emerging from a huge underwater structure,” explained expert Heather Handley of Monash University.
Emergency agencies reported “great damage” in Tonga after the massive eruption, but the full picture is still unknown as the airport runway is still flooded with rocks that prevent the landing of an Australian C-130 military plane.
The Tongan capital Nuku’alofa was covered by two centimeters of volcanic ash and dust.
Internal phone systems were restored, but international communication continues to be interrupted.
The capital’s boardwalk is “heavily damaged with stones and debris washed inland by the tsunami,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
OCHA also reported that reconnaissance flights confirmed “substantial property damage” on Mango and Fonoi Islands.
”An active distress signal was detected in Mango”, indicated OCHA. The island has about 30 inhabitants, according to the Tonga census.
Meanwhile, two Mexican biologists were trapped in Tonga although they are out of danger, while the government and their families are trying to get them out, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Images released by the UN Satellite Center showed the impact of the eruption and tsunami on the small island of Nomuka, one of the closest to the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano.
Australia and New Zealand, which sent Orion reconnaissance planes to fly over the area, have prepared aid shipments for Tonga.
Water is one of the prioritiesNew Zealand Defense Minister Andrew Bridgman said over the risk of sources being contaminated. The Red Cross reported that it will send 2,516 containers of water and France, which has several territories in Polynesia, promised to send “urgent” aid to the people of Tonga.
The main rescue agencies, which usually come with emergency humanitarian aid, have said they are at a standstill., unable to contact your local staff.
“From the few updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense,” said Katie Greenwood of the Red Cross regional office.
But even when relief efforts can begin, these could be complicated by Covid-19 entry restrictions.
Saturday’s eruption was heard as far away as Alaska, triggering a tsunami that inundated Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States and also reached South America. On Saturday, two women in Peru died swept away by the waves.
The eruption damaged an underwater communication cable between Tonga and Fiji. which the operators say will take two weeks to repair.
AFP, DPA and Reuters agencies