Thursday, May 26

Pacific Tsunami Threat Recedes as Volcanic Ash Cloud Covers Tonga | tonga

The Pacific tsunami threat from a major undersea volcanic eruption began to recede on Sunday, but the massive ash cloud blanketing the small island nation of Tonga prevented surveillance flights from assessing the extent of damage from the tsunamis. waves that are believed to have flooded entire cities.

Videos shared on social media after the eruption showed people running for higher ground as meter-high floodwaters hit coastal areas and moved inland as the sky darkened with ash. A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska.

There were no official reports of injuries or deaths on Sunday night, with communications limited.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, told a news conference on Sunday that no contact had been made with coastal areas beyond the capital Nuku’alofa. “Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust, but conditions are otherwise calm and stable,” Ardern said. “We haven’t heard from other coastal areas yet,” he said.

Ardern said the main undersea communications cable was affected, likely due to a loss of power. He added that power was being restored to some areas of the islands and local mobile phones were starting to work slowly. New Zealand’s high commission in Nuku’alofa said the tsunami damaged ships, shops and other infrastructure.

Tonga’s cabinet held a crisis meeting on Sunday and was seeking help, the office of Zed Seselja, Australia’s minister for the Pacific, said. Australia would send a P8 surveillance aircraft to Tonga on Monday.

Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, said it was highly unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect an entire ocean basin, calling the sight “humiliating and terrifying.”

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Tsunami waves caused damage to ships as far away as New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California, but did not appear to cause widespread damage. Snider said he anticipated the tsunami situation in the US and elsewhere would continue to improve.

Large waves break ashore at Wrights Beach, California, following an underwater eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano in Tonga.
Large waves break ashore at Wrights Beach, California, following an underwater eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano in Tonga. Photograph: Kent Porter/AP

Previous tsunami warnings were issued for Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific Coast. The US Geological Survey estimated that the eruption caused the equivalent of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Scientists said tsunamis generated by volcanoes rather than earthquakes were relatively rare.

When the tsunami hit on Saturday, video shot from the roof of a building on the coast showed large waves breaking the coastal wall within seconds of each other, while video shot from New Zealand’s high commission in Nuku’alofa, where the people ran for shelter, it showed that the downtown area of ​​Patangata had been completely submerged, including the Royal Palace and the largest bank in Tonga.

Another video, shot inside a church, showed children screaming as water surrounded the building and waves began to pound against the windows. in a video uploaded to youtube After the eruption, Abraham Leilua begins by telling his followers that “it’s not that bad”, but after a few minutes, as the water rises, he says: “I have to run for my life” before ending the video.

Blake Smith-Tatafi, a Tongan living in Australia, said they were praying and afraid. “If you don’t know, the island of Tonga is flat. This leaves your people with no realistic safe place to evacuate. Villages completely under water. We haven’t had contact for hours. This is a crisis,” he said.

Pita Taufatofua, a Tongan Olympian based in Australia, said she had not heard from her father or his family on Ha’apai, Tonga’s lower islands.

“Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been cut off,” he said. “While I am unable to help the family at this time, I will focus on the country as more information comes out.”

Southern Cross Cable Network said on Sunday that it had been able to confirm contact with a communications center in Tonga and that work was under way to restore telephone and internet links.

A cheep on Sunday morning it stated that Tonga’s Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said the tsunami warning was still in effect and much of the country had suffered severe damage. Australia’s department of foreign affairs said its high commission had received no reports of casualties.

Ardern called the situation in Tonga “very worrying.”

“Communication, as a result of the eruption, has been difficult, but our defense force team and the Foreign Office are working as we speak to establish what is needed and how we can help,” he said.

New Zealand has made an initial sum of NZ$500,000 (£249,000) available to Tonga and has sent an aerial surveillance plane to assess the damage.

Ardern said he had been in contact with Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, and that both governments were ready to respond to Tonga’s needs. But conditions were not immediately safe for planes.

“There is an urgency here. We want to make sure we get ashore as soon as possible, but it will take several days for our navy ships to get to Tonga, and we need to finely balance the need to get there quickly, but to make sure we also get the people and resources that they need. there as well, and in some cases we have parts of Tonga where we just haven’t been able to communicate.”

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he was “deeply concerned” about the recovery of the Tongan people and that the United States was prepared to provide support.

Shairani Ali, CEO of Save the Children Fiji, said the charity was closely monitoring the situation and prepared to respond. “Our thoughts have been for the safety of our brothers and sisters in Tonga, and Save the Children is in a good position to help as needed,” he said, adding that “the rumblings of the Tonga volcano eruption could be clearly heard.” in Fiji”. .

The volcano, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, 1,800 m high and 20 km wide, is located 65 km north of Nuku’alofa. US Storm Watch said the eruption was one of the most violent ever captured by satellite, while the Tonga Geological Survey said gas, smoke and ash from the eruption reached 20 kilometers into the sky.

The eruption could be heard up to 2,300km away in New Zealand, while tsunami warnings were in effect at various times across the Pacific, including in Australia, Japan and the US. Some coastal communities in Fiji and Vanuatu were damaged by large waves, while storm surges were reported to damage harbors and coastal parks along the US West Coast.

Satellite images appeared to show that Tonga’s uninhabited Nuku and Tau islands were completely eroded away. Tonga has also been affected by two category five cyclones in the last five years: Cyclone Harold in April 2020 and Cyclone Gita in 2018.

In Japan, some 230,000 people were advised to evacuate in eight prefectures as waves of more than one meter hit coastal areas, public broadcaster NHK reported. The alert included areas affected by the deadly 2011 tsunami.

with Reuters

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