Satellite imagery shows a similar scene in the capital’s Kolofo’ou district on the main island of Tonga, with trees and houses completely covered by volcanic debris. Some buildings appear to have collapsed and aid workers are now concerned about water pollution and food security in the district.
BEFORE AND AFTER: pSatellite images of the main port in Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, show the effects of the massive volcanic eruption and tsunami.
But as Tonga’s first deaths from the natural disaster were confirmed and rescue efforts continued, aid workers warned the true extent of the destruction remains unknown. Communications were badly affected by the disaster – some smaller islands were completely cut off.
Alexander Matheou, director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that in addition to the ash there was “widespread coastal damage as a result of the tsunami wave”.
“We are particularly concerned about the low-lying islands near the eruption itself,” he added. “Right now we know very little.”
According to officials from several donor countries, the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country was hampered by ash falling on the capital’s airport runway.
New Zealand will dispatch two Royal Navy ships to its Pacific island nation on Tuesday, the country’s defense minister Peeni Henare said in a statement, adding it would take them three days to reach Tonga.
The two ships — including HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa — will carry a Seasprite helicopter, as well as relief supplies and disaster relief, Peeni said.
“Water is a top priority for Tonga at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can transport 250,000 liters and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant,” he added.
Significant damage was reported across Tonga, which is home to more than 100,000 people, most of whom live on the main island of Tongatapu. At least 100 homes across the archipelago were damaged and at least 50 were completely destroyed, according to Save the Children Fiji CEO Shairana Ali. But the numbers are likely to rise as rescue workers work to restore communication lines, she added.
“This is a very unique type of crisis that we are facing due to a lack of communication…the main challenge right now is getting detailed information from officials and Tonga,” Ali said, adding that they anticipate water shortages in the coming ones days.
A key undersea communications cable linking Tonga with Fiji is damaged and repairs are not expected to begin until February 1.
“This cable is critical to Tonga’s overall digital connectivity to the rest of the world,” said Dean Veverka, chief technology officer and vice president of operations at Southern Cross Cables, on Tuesday.
deaths in Tonga
At least two people, including a British national, died in Tonga after tsunami waves battered roads, flooding residential areas and causing power outages.
Britain’s Angela Glover’s body was found after being swept away by the tsunami, her brother Nick Eleini said in a statement Monday.
Glover, 50, who lives with her husband in the capital Nuku’alofa and runs an animal welfare organization, tried to save her dogs when the waves hit, Eleini said.
“It was always Angela’s dream to swim with whales, and it was Tonga that gave her the opportunity to pursue those dreams,” Eleini said.
Saturday’s eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano was likely the largest volcanic event since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991, experts said.
Photos and videos uploaded to social media immediately afterwards showed people fleeing the powerful tsunami and the afternoon sky already darkened by the ash cloud. Boats and large boulders washed ashore in Nuku’alofa, damaging businesses along the shore.
The volcano sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire and is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tonga’s capital.
It had been active since December 20 but was declared inactive on January 11, according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand.