Tonga volcano eruption

On 15 January 2022, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption in Tonga, triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages and resorts and knocked out communications for the South Pacific nation of about 105,000 people. Three people have been reported killed.

The volcanic eruption was the largest recorded in thirty years. A huge, 20 km high mushroom cloud of smoke and ash was followed by a tsunami, and the eruption was heard as far away as Australia and New Zealand, causing tsunami warnings across the Pacific. Waves as high as 1.2 metres hit the capital, Nuku’alofa, whose inhabitants fled to high ground, leaving behinds flooded houses, whilst rocks and ash rained from the sky.

International phone and internet services are still unreliable, after a key underwater communication cable was severed during the eruption. The psychological impact of waves rushing through and destroying villages will affect their lives for some time.

The WHO reports that the Tongan Government reacted quickly to the crisis, deploying a warship to the Ha’api islands, with a team from the WHO-trained Tonga Emergency Medical Assistance Team on board, ready to help the injured. The emergency relief effort is being coordinated by the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT), which brings together UN agencies, the Red Cross and international NGOs, to organize on the ground and provide support to the Tongan Government. The priorities for the team are to help re-establish communications, find ways to transport emergency aid, and provide technical advice on matters such as ensuring the safety of drinking water supplies, which have been seriously affected by volcanic ash.

Two weeks after the eruption and tsunami, an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude has been recorded off the coast of Tonga. The epicentre was located 219km (136 miles) northwest of Pangai, a town on the remote island of Lifuka, at a depth of 14.5km (9 miles), according to United States Geological Survey (USGS) data.

Prime Minister of Tonga, Siaosi Sovaleni on Tuesday, informed that two men tested positive in the capital Nuku’alofa and were in isolation. Sovaleni said Tonga would close its borders from 0500GMT on Wednesday, with the situation reviewed every 48 hours. The infected men were workers helping distribute aid in Tonga after the volcanic eruption and tsunami.

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