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

Australia and New Zealand dispatched surveillance flights on Monday to assess the damage in Tonga, isolated from the rest of the world due to the eruption of an underwater volcano that triggered a tsunami and blanketed the Pacific island with ash.

Iran PressAsia: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to provide assistance to Tonga as soon as possible, but said volcanic ash hindered relief efforts.

“There are a lot of challenges out there with the ash cloud and communication disruptions and so we’re working together to get Tonga as much support as possible,” Morrison told radio station 2GB on Monday.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology told Reuters in an emailed statement on Monday that “there was no current volcanic activity, and the volcanic ash is not erupting.” It said the ash that reached the Australian state of Queensland was from a previous eruption.

Australia’s Pacific Ocean Minister Jade Cesselja said initial reports suggested no casualties and that Tonga’s airport “appears to be in relatively good condition” but there was “significant damage” to roads and bridges.

Cecelja said Australia was liaising with the United States, New Zealand, France and other countries to coordinate the response.

New Zealand’s Defense Minister Pini Henre told a news conference in Auckland that power had been restored to large parts of Nuku’alofa and some communications were back.

The New Zealand Hercules C-130 will perform the drops of essentials after assessing the requirements and the Navy will also be deployed.

An underwater volcano near Tonga erupted on Saturday, triggering a tsunami off the coast of Tonga and cutting off phone and internet lines for the entire island.

There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga so far, but communications are still limited and the outer coastline remains cut off.

Media reports have said that a British woman has gone missing after being swept away.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday that the tsunami had a significant impact on infrastructure.

The Red Cross said it was mobilizing its regional network to respond to what it called the worst volcanic eruption in decades in the Pacific.

“The Red Cross has enough relief supplies to support essential items such as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, shelter tool kits and hygiene kits in 1,200 homes,” the IFRC’s Pacific head of delegation, Katie Greenwood, told Reuters.

Greenwood said the agency expected 80,000 people to be affected by the tsunami.

“That’s what we’re planning as a worst-case scenario until we get further confirmation from the people on the ground,” she said.

The agency said there were concerns that communities may not have access to safe drinking water as a result of saltwater inundation caused by tsunami waves and ash.

Heavy bang

The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Hapai volcano has erupted regularly over the past few decades, but the effects of Saturday’s eruption were felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and Japan. Two people drowned on a beach due to high waves caused by a tsunami in northern Peru.

New Zealand forecaster Weatherwatch said in a statement that about 26 hours after the eruption, lands thousands of kilometers to the west were covered with volcanic ash clouds.

Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia are affected and the ash cloud is expected to move towards eastern Australia on Monday.

Early data suggests the volcanic eruption was the largest since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines 30 years ago, New Zealand-based volcanologist Shane Cronin told Radio New Zealand.

“This is the best explosion seen from space,” Cronin said.

“The large and explosive lateral spread of the eruption suggests that it was probably the largest since the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo,” Cronin said.


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A plume rises over Tonga when the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha
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