Tonga Volcano Eruption Causes Major Damage, Impacting 84,000

Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Tonga Volcano Eruption Causes Major Damage, Impacting 84,000” – below is their description.

Ash covered cars and roads in the Tonga city of Nuku’alofa, following the eruption of the undersea volcano near the Pacific achipelago nation.

Videos and images emerged as communications began to return to the nation since being knocked out by the eruption.

Three of Tonga’s smaller islands suffered serious damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said.

UN humanitarian officials report that about 84,000 people — more than 80% of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, pointing to three deaths, injuries, loss of homes, and polluted water.

Communications have been down throughout Tonga since the eruption on Saturday, but a ship made it to the outlying islands of Nomuka, Mango and Fonoifua on Wednesday, and reported back that few homes remain standing after settlements were hit with 15-meter (49 feet) -high waves, said Katie Greenwood, the head of delegation in the Pacific for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which had two people aboard the vessel to help assess the damage.

The UN’s Dujarric said “all houses have apparently been destroyed on the island of Mango and only two houses remain on Fonoifua island, with extensive damage reported on Nomuka.” He said evacuations are under way for people from the islands.

He said the most pressing humanitarian needs are safe water, food and non-food items, and top priorities are re-establishing communication services including for international calls and the internet.

Tonga has not yet made clear its needs from the international community, and complicating matters is the country’s concern over the possible spread of Covid-19, which it has effectively kept outside its borders except for one case reported in a traveler from New Zealand in October.

Tonga is hoping for “almost contactless disaster relief” as a precaution, the Red Cross’ Greenwood said, acknowledging that this would complicate efforts but is also understandable amid the pandemic.

Some 60% of Tonga’s 106,000 people have already received two doses of a Covid vaccine, and nearly 70% have received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data.

In anticipation of the country’s needs, New Zealand has already sent two ships. One is carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of water and a desalination plant with the capacity to produce 70,000 more liters (18,492 gallons) per day, and another is bringing a survey and diving team to help assess the damage to shipping channels, ports and wharf infrastructure.

Australia is also preparing to send aid by air and ship, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expected to talk with his counterpart in Tonga later Wednesday to better understand what is needed.

The volcano coated the main island with a 2-centimeter (0.78 inch) layer of ash, which has rendered the 2.6-kilometer (1.6 miles) runway at Fua’amotu International Airport unusable. Volunteers have been working to sweep ash away to clear a path for aid planes to land, but the UN said Wednesday that ash continued to fall.

A New Zealand reconnaissance aircraft has already flown over the impacted islands and provided the data to Tonga’s government.

Communications have been severely restricted because the single underwater fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world was likely severed in the eruption. The company that owns the cable said the repairs could take weeks.

Satellite images captured the spectacular eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific. The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

The heavy amount of ash in the air has also meant that satellite communications have been sporadic but they are improving, Greenwood said.

So far, it seems the country has avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.

The government cautioned the death toll is expected to rise as more reports come in from outlying areas.

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