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Tonga cut off from the rest of the world after massive volcanic eruption and tsunami


The Kingdom of Tonga remains cut off from the rest of the world after a massive volcanic eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano some 65 km (40 miles) N of capital Nuku’alofa on January 15, 2022.

A 1.2 m (4 feet) tsunami hit Nuku’alofa some 30 minutes after the eruption1, causing damage to homes and infrastructure. Soon after the eruption, all communication lines with the country have been disrupted and there is currently no timeframe given on restoration.

While there are currently no reports of casualties in Tonga, two people drowned in Peru after tsunami waves reached South America.

In satellite phone communications with the Tongan deputy head of mission in Australia, officials in Tonga confirmed there are no casualties in the capital so far and the tsunami damage is minimal. However, there are several surrounding islands and coastal areas which have been out of contact and there has been no word from these more isolated parts of the kingdom.

Australia and New Zealand have already sent relief supplies using ships, but several days will pass until they reach Tonga.

Volcanologist Shane Cronin from the University of Auckland said the eruption was very short-lived but extremely powerful. The power it released is similar to the 1991 eruption of the Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines (VEI 6), Cronin said.

Satellite images acquired some 12 hours after the eruption, show that the volcanic island (home of the eruption) is almost completely wiped out.

The eruptive column is currently estimated at 30 km (98 500 feet) above sea level, according to data provided by the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) Limb Profiler aboard the Suomi NPP satellite.2

​Image credit: OMPS, NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP

“From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense- especially for outer lying Islands. We are trying hard to establish contact with our colleagues at Tonga Red Cross and establish the scale and specific nature of the support they need,” said Katie Greenwood, IFRC’s Pacific Head of Delegation.3

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1 Massive eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai produces huge shockwave and 1.2 m high tsunami, Tonga – The Watchers

2 Height of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption reached 30 km (98 500 feet) a.s.l., Tonga – The Watchers

3 Tonga: Volcanic eruption and tsunami cuts off country from the world – IFRC

Featured image: Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupting on January 14, 2022. Credit: Tonga Geological Services


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