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Pacific Neighbours Rally Around Tonga After Volcanic Eruption

(Photo by Dana Stephenson//Getty Images)

The scale of the damage caused by a massive underwater volcanic eruption in Tonga remains unclear, with both Australia and New Zealand sending surveillance aircraft to assess the situation in the tiny Pacific island nation.

Communications with the Tongan government were still “deeply affected” on Monday morning, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne told a press conference. The eruption was an “enormous challenge for the people of Tonga” and “we’re seeking further information about the extent of the damage,” she said.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa, erupted on Saturday evening, disabling an undersea internet cable, cutting off Tonga’s communications and triggering tsunami warnings across the region, including in Australia and New Zealand.

Satellite images from the eruption showed a large mushroom cloud of smoke and ash blooming suddenly out of the ocean. According to AP, the sonic boom from the explosion could be heard as far away as Alaska.


Payne said there were early reports of “substantial ash coverage” to the capital, as well as flooding on the coastline and damage to infrastructure. There are no confirmed reports of deaths or injuries as yet.

An Australian Defense Force reconnaissance plane was dispatched to get a better picture of the situation in Tonga on Monday morning and determine the next phase of the response effort.

It left shortly after New Zealand sent an Orion aircraft to assess the damage. Both countries had been unable to get a surveillance flight in the air earlier due to the ash cloud, which was measured at 63,000 feet (19,000 meters) high.


Australia and New Zealand have announced they are prepared to dispatch aid to Tonga as soon as possible.

New Zealand will send a C-130 Hercules aircraft today with crucial supplies such as water, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters. A naval vessel with aid and equipment will follow once aerial surveillance is complete.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Monday, International Red Cross and Red Crescent in the Pacific head of delegation Katie Greenwood said her organization was hoping for more information from the Australian and New Zealand flights on the impact of the eruption on low-lying atolls and surrounding islands.

Almost 80% of the country’s 105,697 people may have been affected, Greenwood said.


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