Volcano ash poses health concerns after massive eruption in Tonga
Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance flights on Monday to assess the damage in Tonga, cut off from the rest of the world after a volcano erupted that triggered a tsunami and blanketed the Pacific island in ash.
Australia’s Pacific Minister Zed Seselja said initial reports suggested no mass casualties from Saturday’s eruption and tsunami, but Australian police had visited the beaches and reported extensive damage with “discarded houses”.
“We know there is significant damage and there is significant damage to resorts,” he said in an interview with an Australian radio station, adding that Tonga airport appeared to be in relatively good condition.
A British woman was reported missing, he said.
Surveillance flights would assess the situation in the outer islands where communications are completely cut off.
Tonga’s Deputy Head of Mission to Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, asked for patience as the Tonga government decides on its aid priorities.
Tonga is concerned about the risk of aid deliveries spreading COVID-19 to the island, which is COVID-free.
“We don’t want to cause another wave – a tsunami of COVID-19,” he told Reuters by phone.
“When people see such a huge explosion, they want to help,” he said, but added that diplomats in Tonga were also concerned about some private fundraising efforts and urged the public to wait until a disaster relief fund is announced.
Ash poses a health problem
Any aid sent to Tonga would have to be quarantined and it was likely that no foreign personnel would be allowed to disembark planes, he said.
The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano triggered a tsunami off the shores of Tonga and knocked out telephone and internet lines across the island.
International communications were severely hampered by damage to an undersea cable, which could take more than a week to restore, and Australia and New Zealand were helping with satellite calls, he said. declared.
Telephone networks in Tonga have been restored, but the ash posed a major health concern, contaminating drinking water.
“Most people don’t know that ash is poisonous and bad for them and they have to wear a mask,” Tu’ihalangingie said.
The Ha’atafu Beach Resort, on the Hihifo peninsula, 21 kilometers west of the capital Nuku’alofa, has been “completely wiped out”, the owners said on Facebook.
The family running the resort ran for their lives in the bush to escape the tsunami, he added. “The whole west coast was completely destroyed along with the village of Kanukupolu,” the resort said.
Britain’s Angela Glover disappeared after being swept away by a wave as she and her husband, James, owner of the Happy Sailor Tattoo in Nuku’alofa, went to pick up their dogs.
The husband managed to cling to a tree, but his wife, who runs a dog shelter, and their dogs were swept away, New Zealand public broadcaster TVNZ reported.
The Red Cross said it was mobilizing its network to respond to what it called the worst volcanic eruption the Pacific has seen in decades.
Katie Greenwood, head of the Pacific delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Reuters that up to 80,000 people could have been affected by the tsunami.
Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai has erupted steadily for decades, but the impact of Saturday’s eruption was felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and Japan. Two people drowned on a beach in northern Peru due to the high waves caused by the tsunami.
More than a day after the eruption, countries thousands of miles to the west are blanketed in volcanic ash clouds, New Zealand forecaster WeatherWatch said.
Early data suggests the eruption was the biggest explosion since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines 30 years ago, New Zealand volcanologist Shane Cronin told Radio New Zealand.