from The Guardian today
Tonga volcano: first pictures after eruption show islands blanketed in ash, as two deaths confirmed
Pictures from a New Zealand defence force surveillance flight and UN satellite images show land and trees coated in ash
02:38 UTC Tuesday, 18 January 2022
Some of the first images have emerged from Tonga’s volcano and tsunami-hit islands, after a New Zealand defence force surveillance flight returned from the cut-off country, as two deaths from the disaster have been confirmed in Tonga.
Aerial photography of Nomuka, a small island in the southern part of the Haʻapai group, shows land and trees coated with ash and other damage inflicted by the huge undersea volcanic eruption
and tsunami that hit the Pacific nation on Saturday.
Satellite imagery analysed by the UN shows similar scenes in Kolomotua, Tongatapu, and Fafaa Village, Kolofo’ou: while some buildings remain standing, others appear to have collapsed, and the entire landscape is coated with grey ash.
At Fua’amotu International Airport, the runway appears to have been inundated, and is partly covered by either ash or dirt. Other satellite images show that flooding came in several blocks from the coastline.
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai undersea volcano, 65km north of Tonga’s capital, is thought to be the largest volcanic event in 30 years. Initial videos and photographs were posted on social media of the tsunami wave sweeping in, but they were followed by silence, after the main communications cable was damaged. Communications from Tonga have been extremely limited in the days since.
Tongans around the world may be forced to wait weeks for regular contact to resume
, after testing confirmed that the cable connecting the islands to the outside world was cut in at least one place.
A spokesperson for Southern Cross Cable, which operates other undersea cable networks across the region, said that testing by Fintel and Tonga Cable on Sunday afternoon “seems to confirm a likely cable break around 37km offshore from Tonga”.
On Tuesday, New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs and trade said there had been two confirmed deaths in Tonga from the disaster, one of which was a British national.
There have been no official confirmations of casualties from Tongan authorities, but the family of Angela Glover, a British woman
living in Tonga who went missing in the tsunami, reported on Monday that her body had been found.
New Zealand foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta said on Tuesday that the ash could cause problems for getting aid into the country via plane.
“Images show ashfall on the Nuku’alofa airport runway that must be cleared before a C-130 Hercules flight with humanitarian assistance can land,” she said.
The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a briefing on Monday there was significant infrastructural damage around the main island of Tongatapu. “We are particularly concerned about two small low-lying islands – Mango and Fonoi – following New Zealand and Australian surveillance flights confirming substantial property damage,” they said.
New Zealand has dispatched two naval ships carrying water and other aid supplies. Mahuta said the New Zealand Government had allocated a further $500,000 in humanitarian assistance, taking its initial funding total to $1 million.
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that contact had not yet been established with many coastal regions beyond the capital, Nuku‘alofa.
“Nuku‘alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust but otherwise conditions are calm and stable,” Ardern said. “We have not yet received news from other coastal areas.”
With communications severely limited, many Tongan diaspora communities are desperately waiting for news from their families.
The Royal New Zealand air force Orion aircraft left Auckland on Monday morning, with plans to fly over the Ha’apai group of islands, and then the main island of Tongatapu, to assess damage and see if runways were clear for subsequent planes to land.
The Australian defence force also sent a surveillance plane on Monday, to assess damage to critical infrastructure such as roads, ports and power lines.