Tonga assesses damage after tsunami, ash blankets island

Tonga assesses damage after tsunami, ash blankets island

Australia and New Zealand on Monday sent flights to Tonga to survey the damage after the eruption of an undersea volcano left the tiny Pacific kingdom covered in ash and caused a tsunami.

Australia’s Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja said Saturday’s eruption at the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano and subsequent tsunami did not cause mass casualties but authorities had toured beaches and saw “significant “damage with “houses thrown around.”

“We know there is some significant damage, and know there is significant damage to resorts,” he said in an interview with an Australian radio station, adding that Tonga’s airport appeared to be in relatively good condition and that a British woman was reported missing.

While telephone lines cut during the eruption in Tonga have since been brought back, ash has caused significant health concerns as it has contaminated drinking water and air.

“Most people are not aware the ash is toxic and bad for them to breathe and they have to wear a mask,” Tu’ihalangingie said.

Eruption of volcano.
The eruption of an undersea volcano left Tonga covered in ash and put the entire Pacific on tsunami watch.
Tonga Geological Services via REUTERS

Meanwhile, the Red Cross announced it was mobilizing to help with a natural disaster that the organization characterized as the worst volcanic eruption the Pacific has experienced in decades.

Recent startling satellite images showed a massive section of a volcanic island near Tonga collapsing into the ocean right before it erupted Saturday, leaving the entire Pacific on tsunami watch and the island nation largely out of contact Sunday.

Photos of the uninhabitable island of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai showed the middle third of the landmass “collapsed” beneath the water from the force of the 12-mile-wide erupting volcano underneath.

A Royal Australian Air Force P-8 Poseidon aircraft departing from RAAF Base Amberley in the state of Queensland to assist the Tonga Government.
Australia and New Zealand on Monday sent flights to Tonga to survey the damage.
LACW Emma Schwenke/Australian Defence Force/AFP via Getty Images

About 80,000 people could have been affected by the tsunami, said Katie Greenwood, the Pacific head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Preliminary data suggests the eruption was the largest eruption since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines 30 years ago, said New Zealand-based volcanologist Shane Cronin.

“This is an eruption best witnessed from space,” Cronin told Radio New Zealand.

Capsized boat.
Tsunami waves driven by the volcano eruption caused damage in New Zealand.
Tanya White/Northern Advcate/NZME via AP
A damaged boat in New Zealand.
A capsized boat in a New Zealand harbor.
Tanya White/Northern Advcate/NZME via AP

The assessments come after on Monday a second major eruption was detected at the Hunga Tonga volcano, according to an alert from Australia’s Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre. There were no casualties reported from the second eruption on Sunday night.

The underwater volcano near Tonga also sparked massive waves on Saturday on the California coast, nearly 6,000 miles away.

Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, the Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, said Tonga is concerned about aid delivery workers bringing a wave of COVID-19 to the coronavirus-free South Pacific island. Aid workers dispatched to Tonga would be required to be quarantined, and it was likely no foreign personnel would be allowed to disembark aircraft, according to Tu’ihalangingie.

Surf rescue.
Surf rescue workers at Bondi Beach in Australia during a tsunami warning following the underwater volcanic eruption.
Jenny Evans/Getty Images

“When people see such a huge explosion they want to help,” he said in a phone call. “We don’t want to bring in another wave — a tsunami of Covid-19.”

With Post Wires

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