Volcanic eruption near Tonga: Neighboring countries send help by ship

Status: 01/18/2022 11:43 a.m

After the eruption of a submarine volcano near Tonga, there is still no contact with some islands. Now New Zealand and Australia are sending ships with aid supplies. Experts fear another outbreak.

It is still not known what caused the volcanic eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai and the subsequent tsunami on the islands of Tonga. New Zealand therefore wants to send two ships with relief supplies to the archipelago today.

A formal request for help is still pending, but the New Zealand government already wants to send the ships “Wellington” and “Aotearoa” because they needed three days to reach the affected region, it said.

250,000 liters of fresh water on board

The “Aotearoa” is to transport urgently needed drinking water, because the water in Tonga is polluted by ash. The ship can transport 250,000 liters and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant, Defense Minister Peeni Henare said.

A ship is also scheduled to depart from Brisbane, Australia, on Wednesday. According to the AAP news agency, the “Adelaide” will have humanitarian aid, medical professionals and helicopters on board.

On Monday, New Zealand and Australia had already sent planes to Tonga to assess the situation from the air. The armed forces released footage showing colorless landscapes under a thick layer of ash. However, machines cannot currently land in the capital because the airport must first be cleared of the ash.

A photo shows ash-covered houses on an island in the Tonga archipelago after the volcanic eruption.

Image: EPA

Two confirmed deaths so far

Communication links to the islands of the archipelago are further affected because a key undersea cable was severed by the seaquake. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there was no contact specifically with the Ha’apai archipelago. Satellite phones are the only reliable means of communication, but they don’t always work either.

“Overall, there seems to be significant damage to the infrastructure around the main island of Tongatapu,” OCHA reported. Beaches, houses and hotels, especially in the west of the island, should also be affected. The New Zealand government, citing the police in Tonga, said that two deaths had been confirmed so far.

Experts fear another outbreak

After the tsunami triggered by the volcano, there is particular concern about the low-lying islands of Mango, Atata and Fonoi. An emergency signal was received from Mango, where around 50 people live. “People are panicking, running around and hurting. There may be more deaths,” said Tonga’s Deputy Ambassador to Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie.

Numerous buildings have disappeared on the neighboring island of Atata, which has around 100 residents. “Apparently, the wave once completely rolled over Atata,” Tu’ihalangingie said.

In addition, experts fear that the submarine volcano continues to pose a threat. “I think it will erupt again in the coming days, weeks or months,” Australian broadcaster ABC quoted geochemist Oliver Nebel from the renowned Monash University in Melbourne as saying. At the same time, however, it is almost impossible to predict whether there will be another outbreak of the same intensity.

Strongest eruption since 1991

The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai threw a gigantic cloud of ash and gas kilometers high on Saturday and triggered tsunami waves that even swept onto the coasts of Japan, Alaska and South America. Satellite images showed spectacular images of the eruption, which experts say was probably the strongest in the world since Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991.

The 1800 meter high and 20 kilometer wide undersea volcano is only 65 kilometers north of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa. The Kingdom of Tonga has around 107,000 inhabitants.


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