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As Tonga examines tsunami damage, drinking water and ash are major concerns

A plume rises over Tonga when the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency, on January 15, 2022 and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) and obtained by Reuters on January 16, 2022. National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT)/Handout via REUTERS

On Monday, Australia and New Zealand dispatched surveillance planes to Tonga, which was cut off from the rest of the world when a volcano erupted, triggering a tsunami and blanketing the Pacific island in ash.

An aerial view shows capsized boats believed to be affected by the tsunami caused by an underwater volcano eruption on the island of Tonga at the South Pacific, in Muroto, Kochi prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo January 16, 2022. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

The news: Initial reports suggested no mass casualties from Saturday’s eruption and tsunami, according to Australia’s Pacific Minister Zed Seselja, but Australian police visited beaches and reported extensive damage, including properties blown around.

  • One British woman had gone missing.
  • Surveillance flights would assess the situation on the outer islands, which are cut off from the rest of the world.
  • Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, begged for patience as Tonga’s government decides on aid priorities.
  • Tonga is concerned about the danger of COVID-19 spreading to the island, which is currently COVID-free.
  • Any supplies transported to Tonga would have to be quarantined, and foreign people would almost certainly not be allowed to unload planes.
  • The Red Cross is mobilising its network to respond to what it described as the Pacific’s greatest volcanic eruption in decades.
A Planet SkySat image shows a plume of smoke rising from the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai days before its eruption on January 15, in Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, Tonga, January 07, 2022. Planet Labs PBC/via REUTERS

What happened: The Hunga Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted, causing a tsunami on Tonga’s coastlines and cutting out the entire island’s phone and internet lines.

  • Damage to an undersea cable has hampered international communication, which might take more than a week to repair, and Australia and New Zealand are assisting with satellite calls.
  • Tonga’s telephone networks have been restored, but ash has contaminated drinking water, posing a serious health risk.
  • The Ha’atafu Beach Resort, located on the Hihifo Peninsula, 21 kilometres (13 miles) west of Nuku’alofa, was totally wiped out.
  • The resort’s management family had ran for their life through the woods to avoid the tsunami, according to the report.
  • Angela Glover, a British woman, went missing after being blown away by a wave while on her way to retrieve her dogs with her husband, James, who owns the Happy Sailor Tattoo in Nuku’alofa.
  • The husband managed to hold on to a tree, but his wife, who operates a dog rescue sanctuary, and their pets were washed away.

Facts and figures: Up to 80,000 people could have been affected by the tsunami, according to Katie Greenwood, the Pacific head of mission for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

  • Over the last few decades, Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai has erupted on a regular basis, but the effects of Saturday’s eruption were felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States, and Japan. Due to the tsunami’s powerful waves, two persons drowned off a beach in Northern Peru.
  • Countries thousands of kilometres to the west have volcanic ash clouds over them more than a day after the eruption, according to New Zealand forecaster WeatherWatch.
  • According to early statistics, the explosion was the largest since Mount Pinatubo erupted 30 years ago in the Philippines, according to New Zealand-based volcanologist Shane Cronin of Radio New Zealand.
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