A New Zealand Defense Force plane has left Auckland on a reconnaissance flight to assess the damage in Tonga some 36 hours after a massive volcanic blast caused a tsunami. AAP reports.
Communications with the remote Pacific nation remain limited after Saturday night’s eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, although power is being restored. In the absence of confirmed reports of deaths or damage, New Zealand officials are reporting coastal damage from storm surges following the blast.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said boulders and boats washed ashore on Tongatapu, the largest island and home to the capital Nuku’alofa, about 40 miles south of the volcano:
When you see some of those waves coming in and peeling away fences and structures, you can see the power of those waves. Everyone just wants to note how far-reaching these impacts have been. We want to be in Tonga and on site as quickly as possible.
The blast also created a tsunami over the Pacific Ocean, sending large waves to Japan, the United States and Peru, while a sonic boom was heard in nearby Pacific countries.
Minister of the Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio said key members of the Tongan royal family are safe and well. Volcanic ash in the air and on the runway in Tonga prevented a flight immediately after the explosion.
Just before 9:00am NZDT Monday morning, a Defense Force Orion aircraft took off from the Whenuapai base in Auckland to conduct further investigations. The aircraft will also carry water, food and medical supplies.
foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said 80% of power was restored, but internet connectivity and communications remained an issue.
University of Auckland Volcanologist Shane Cronin said the outbreak was likely the world’s largest in three decades. In conversation he wrote:
Our research on these earlier eruptions indicates that this is one of the massive explosions that the volcano can produce about every thousand years. We found evidence of two large past eruptions… and then used radiocarbon data to show that large caldera eruptions occur about every 1000 years, with the last occurring around 1100 AD.