Latest developments

Aid from China, which included cash assistance and emergency supplies, has arrived in tsunami-hit Tonga.

Tonga volcanic eruption may cause China's summer rain belts shift south.

Peru declared environmental emergency after announcing that 21 beaches polluted by spill linked to Tonga eruption.

The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga finally arrived Thursday after the Pacific nation's main airport runway was cleared of ash.

10:00 2022-01-27
Supplies on way to ease Tonga plight

China will dispatch two military planes carrying about 33 metric tons of relief supplies including drinking water, food, personal protective equipment and tents to Tonga on Thursday, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

A vessel carrying the emergency aid from China to Tonga sets off at a port in Suva's Walu Bay, Fiji, Jan 24, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

Zhao said some bulky goods and materials such as mobile houses, tractors, electric generators and water pumps will be sent in good time by Chinese naval vessels to the South Pacific archipelago devastated by a volcanic eruption and tsunami.

"China will continue to provide assistance within its ability to Tonga for disaster relief and reconstruction according to the situation and Tonga's needs," Zhao told reporters during a regular news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

This new batch of emergency relief materials announced by Zhao was the latest provided by China after the Red Cross said on Wednesday that Tonga's airport was cleared of ash and it is now safe for planes to land.

Upon Tonga's request, Zhao said China has provided disaster relief assistance to the country through various channels after the volcano eruption, including $100,000 of emergency humanitarian aid in cash by the Red Cross Society of China.

As early as Jan 19, the Chinese government has delivered emergency supplies to Tonga through the Chinese embassy there and it was the first batch of supplies that the Tongan government received after the disaster.

Another batch of emergency supplies worth 1 million yuan ($158,100) put together by the Chinese embassy in Fiji was shipped out on Monday and is expected to arrive in Tonga on Thursday.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages and resorts. Three people have died, media reports cited authorities as saying.

Zhao also said a chartered flight laden with Chinese aid had arrived in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands on Wednesday noon, Beijing time.

The chartered flight carried medical supplies including 50,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses, 20,000 detection reagents and 60,000 masks as urgently requested by the Solomon Islands, as well as 15 metric tons of anti-riot equipment for police.

An ad hoc Chinese police advisory team and a team of experts for China-aided projects also boarded the same plane.

"The Chinese supplies and personnel will play a constructive role in enhancing the ability of the Solomon Islands police and also in dealing with the new wave of COVID-19 infections," Zhao said.

In late November, serious riots broke out in Honiara, affecting the safety and daily lives of local citizens and overseas Chinese residents.

China has firmly supported the Solomon Islands' government in defending its stability and the first batch of China-aided anti-riot equipment arrived in Honiara on Dec 29. 

22:03 2022-01-24
China to provide Tonga with more emergency aid
Residents clear ashes and rubbles from a road in Nuku'alofa, capital of Tonga. [Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING - China has decided to provide three more batches of emergency assistance to Tonga in the wake of the recent volcanic eruptions and tsunami there, said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian Monday.

Zhao told a daily press briefing in response to a related query that China has been paying close attention to the situation in Tonga and is providing assistance to the country through multiple channels.

The three batches of emergency aid include emergency supplies worth 20 million yuan ($3.16 million), emergency humanitarian aid in cash, and 1 million yuan worth of aid materials raised through the Chinese Embassy in Fiji, which is close to Tonga.

China will spare no effort and overcome all difficulties to deliver the 20 million yuan worth of supplies to Tonga as soon as possible, said Zhao.

The supplies raised through the Chinese Embassy in Fiji, including drinking water, emergency food, generators, water pumps, and chainsaws, were on their way to Tonga, he added.

The first batch of emergency supplies arrived in Tonga on Jan 19.

"China will continue to provide relief and post-disaster reconstruction assistance to the best of its ability in light of the disaster situation and the needs of Tonga," said the spokesperson.

15:47 2022-01-21
'Life and death' at sea: log keeps Tonga's 'Aquaman' from going under

SYDNEY - A 57-year-old Tongan man being hailed a real-life Aquaman for surviving 27 hours at sea after Saturday's devastating tsunami struck his island said he went under nine times before latching onto a log and making it to safety.

"On the eighth time I thought, the next time I go underwater that's it, because my arms were the only things that were keeping me above water," said Lisala Folau, who is disabled and cannot walk properly, speaking to Reuters from Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

"So the ninth time I went under and came up and grabbed a log. And that's what kept me going."

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano killed at least three people and sent tsunami waves rolling across the Tongan archipelago, damaging villages and resorts and knocking out communications for the nation's 105,000 people.

Folau, who lived on the isolated island of Atata, with a population of about 60 people, was swept out to sea at around 7 pm (0600 GMT) on Saturday.

He had climbed a tree to escape a first wave but when he got down, another big wave swept him out.

"I could hear my son calling from land but I didn't want to answer my son because I didn't want him to swim out to find me," said Folau.

"The waves kept twirling around here and there ... What came to mind is, at sea there is life and death. Until you reach the shore, then you know if you are alive or dead."

Folau said he slowly managed to swim 7.5 km (4.7 miles) to the main island of Tongatapu, reaching the shore 27 hours later at about 10 pm on Sunday.

His heroics have gone viral on social media, with one Facebook post calling him a "real life Aquaman", referring to the comic book and film character.

When asked if he knew who Aquaman was, Flolau said he didn't yet.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the events.

Atata, about 8km northwest of Nuku'alofa, or a 30-minute boat ride, has been almost entirely destroyed in the tsunami that hit the islands.


09:11 2022-01-21
Aid from China arrives in disaster-hit Tonga
Residents clear ashes and rubbles from a road in Nuku'alofa, capital of Tonga. [Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING - Aid from China, which included cash assistance and emergency supplies, has arrived in tsunami-hit Tonga to help the South Pacific island country out of crisis.

"The Chinese side pays close attention to the situation in Tonga, and has taken urgent action to help Tonga in disaster relief to the best of its ability," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press briefing on Thursday.

The Red Cross Society of China has provided emergency humanitarian cash assistance of 100,000 U.S. dollars to Tonga, Zhao said, adding that the Chinese government, through the Chinese Embassy in Tonga, has managed to put together in the shortest time possible some emergency supplies including drinking water and food and delivered them to Tonga on Wednesday.

Tonga has been battered by the worst natural disasters in history resulting from a massive volcano eruption which occurred on Saturday and its ensuing tsunami and volcanic ash.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday sent a message of sympathy to King of Tonga Tupou VI and Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni respectively.

According to Chinese Foreign Ministry, the Chinese government will continue to assist the Tongan side with a batch of emergency supplies such as drinking water, food, personal protective equipments, and disaster relief equipments, which will arrive as soon as the flight conditions permit.

During the crisis in Tonga, President Xi sent a message of sympathy and the Chinese government immediately extended a helping hand, said Tupou VI, adding that the Tongan government and people were moved by China's act of kindness and are deeply grateful.

15:18 2022-01-20
First aid flights reach Tonga
Local residents clear ash and rubbles from a road at Nuku'alofa, capital of Tonga, Jan 20, 2022. On Friday and Saturday, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano in Tonga erupted violently and triggered tsunami in Tonga. [Photo/Xinhua]

SYDNEY - The first humanitarian flights arrived in volcano and tsunami-stricken Tonga Thursday, five days after the dual disaster cut the Pacific nation off from the rest of the world.

Tonga has been inaccessible since Saturday, when one of the largest volcanic explosions in decades cloaked the kingdom in a layer of ash, triggered a Pacific-wide tsunami and severed vital undersea communication cables.

Officials said military transport planes from Australia and New Zealand touched down at Tonga's main airport -- only recently cleared of a thick layer of ash after painstaking effort.

A "C-17 Globemaster left from Amberley Airport Base around 7:00 am today (2000 GMT)," an Australian defence official told AFP.

"The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment," New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

The first smattering of images to emerge from Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa show ashen buildings, toppled walls and streets littered with boulders, tree trunks and other debris.

More than 80 percent of the archipelago's population of 100,000 have been impacted by the disaster, the United Nations has estimated, and initial assessments indicate an urgent need for drinking water.

Tongans worked for days at the airport trying to clear the runway of ash so that much-needed aid could arrive.

The work was painfully slow, with only a few hundred metres being cleared each day.


10:07 2022-01-20
Tonga volcanic eruption may cause China's summer rain belts shift south
A general view from a New Zealand Defence Force P-3K2 Orion surveillance flight shows heavy ash fall over Nomuka in Tonga after the Pacific island nation was hit by a tsunami triggered by an undersea volcanic eruption on Jan 17, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

The volcanic eruption in Tonga could weaken the intensity of the summer monsoon in East Asia in the following year and thus cause the southward shift of China's summer rain belts, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

The massive underwater volcanic eruption in Tonga on Saturday has brought heated discussions concerning how it may affect the global climate.

China Meteorological Administration said many regions in the Northern Hemisphere had witnessed "no summer" in the following year after the eruptions of volcano Laki in Iceland in 1783 and volcano Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. The agency added that the global temperature could drop on average by 0.4 to 0.7 degrees Celsius due to the recent eruptions.

Volcanic eruptions generally have a lasting effect on climate in the following one or two years with a 0.3-degree-Celsius cooling effect, said experts from the meteorological administration.

They suggest taking the ongoing impact of Tonga volcanic eruption into account as a factor when forecasting the rainfall in China's flood season.

AFP reported that the Foreign Ministry of New Zealand said that it will take at least four weeks to repair Tonga's undersea cable. Reuters said the country may still be unable to establish external contact for weeks given the difficulty of repairing the cable.

The volcanic eruption has caused three deaths and several injuries with the whole country under a state of emergency.

08:21 2022-01-20
Distance, volcanic ash delay Tonga aid: UN
Supplies intended as relief material are prepared to be sent to Tonga by the Australian Red Cross, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, January 19, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

UNITED NATIONS - Needs assessment expands for Tonga volcano disaster relief and aid efforts scale up, but delivery is delayed by distance and ash-laden runways, UN humanitarians said on Wednesday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, citing Tongan authorities, said that water, food and restoration of communications top the list of needs. However, it will be days before naval ships from Australia and New Zealand can arrive and dock on the main island of Tongatapu.

Saturday's eruption affects 84,000 people, or 80 percent of the population, OCHA said. The casualty count remains at three dead and an unknown number of people injured.

While 90 percent of electricity on Tongatapu is back up, volcanic ash blocks runways at the international airport at Nuku'alofa, the capital city. They are expected to be cleared by Thursday local time, said OCHA.

Domestic phone service operates only within Tongatapu and 'Eua islands.

When foreign relief can be delivered it is expected to be on a hands-off basis because of the island kingdom's strict anti-COVID protocols. It is one of the few COVID-free countries in the world.

"The United Nations is concerned about the islands of Mango, Fonoifua, and Nomuka which have been severely impacted, though sparsely populated," the office said. "All houses are destroyed on Mango and only two houses remain on Fonoifua, with extensive damage reported on Nomuka. Evacuation of people from Mango and Fonoifua to Nomuka is under way."

Surveillance flight data showed up to 100 houses were severely damaged on the main island and about 50 on 'Eua, OCHA said. Tongan authorities are conducting search-and-rescue operations and have sent two vessels carrying health teams and water, food and tents to the Ha'apai island group, where Mango, Fonoifua and Nomuka are located.

The humanitarian office said the Tongan Red Cross Society and other local partners are distributing emergency water, food rations, shelter and kitchen supplies. The UN Children's Fund is shipping water and other supplies with Australia's HMAS Adelaide, but the ship won't leave for Tonga until Friday.

Japan announced an emergency grant of more than 1 million U.S. dollars along with a pledge to send relief supplies and equipment, OCHA said. The Red Cross Society of China will provide 100,000 dollars in cash and humanitarian assistance.

On one of Tonga's nearest neighbors in the southwestern Pacific, Fiji, 50 engineers from the military forces are on standby to assist in the relief effort should there be a request by the Tongan government, the office said.

22:50 2022-01-19
Xi sends message of sympathy to Tonga king
Satellite images show Tonga's Hunga Ha'apai island on April 11, 2021 (L) and Jan 17, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

President Xi Jinping sent a message of sympathy on Wednesday to King Tupou VI of Tonga over the nation's suffering from a volcanic eruption and tsunami, saying that China will do its best to help the people of the Pacific island country get through the disaster and rebuild their homes.

In the message, Xi said he was shocked to learn that a volcanic eruption and tsunami have brought about major losses to the nation.

On behalf of the Chinese government and people, as well as in his own name, Xi expressed heartfelt sympathy to the government and people of Tonga, adding that the two nations are comprehensive strategic partners that support each other and always stand in solidarity.

Premier Li Keqiang also sent a message of sympathy to Siaosi Sovaleni, the prime minister of Tonga, on Wednesday.

A tsunami hit Tonga on Saturday, following the violent eruption of the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, 65 kilometers north of the country's main island of Tongatapu.

The deaths of three people-two Tongans and a British national-have been confirmed by the government of Tonga.

14:30 2022-01-19
Tsunami-hit Tonga expects 2G connection as interim telecommunication system set up
This handout shows a combination of Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite images released on January 18, 2022 by Copernicus, the European Union's Earth Observation Programme, of Nomuka island (top) in Tonga on December 18, 2021 (L image) and the same area covered in ash (R image) on January 17, 2022, two days after the eruption of nearby Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano which devastated many of the nearby islands and caused a tsunami across the Pacific Ocean. [Photo/Agencies]

WELLINGTON -- An interim telecommunication system has been set up in Tonga to allow its connection with the rest of the world using 2G networks, New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Wednesday.

Digicel, the international mobile phone network provider, has set up an interim system on Tongatapu using the University of South Pacific's satellite dish which may allow 2G connection to be established on Wednesday, according to the foreign ministry.

However, this connection will be limited and patchy covering about 10 percent of usual capacity and prioritizing voice and SMS communications, it said.

US cable company SubCom said at least four weeks are needed to repair Tonga's cable connection.

Power in the Pacific islands country has been restored, with clean-up and damage assessments ongoing. Tongan authorities have been distributing relief supplies.

Work to clear the airport runway continues and is expected to be completed on Wednesday, said a statement of the ministry.

Tsunami waves hit Tonga on Saturday, following a series of violent eruptions from underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, 65 km north of the country's main island Tongatapu.

Three fatalities, two Tongan nationals and a British national, have been confirmed. No further deaths have been reported, it said.

On Tuesday overnight, the Tonga government issued its first official media release since the eruption.

It said emergency response operations are underway, with initial damage assessments conducted, and relief supplies and health teams deployed to affected areas.

Water supplies have been affected by volcanic ash, it said, adding challenges to sea and air transportation remain due to damage sustained by wharves and ash covering runways.

The Tonga government has approved the arrival of two navy vessels HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, which departed New Zealand on Tuesday. The vessels are expected to arrive in Tonga by Friday depending on weather conditions.

A C-130 Hercules aircraft of the New Zealand Air Force is on standby to deliver humanitarian aid and disaster relief stores including collapsible water containers, generators and hygiene kits for families once the airport runway is cleared.

A second NZDF P3 Orion surveillance flight is being conducted on Wednesday. This flight will include a survey of Fiji's southern Lau Islands, at the request of the government of Fiji, to check for potential tsunami damage, said New Zealand's foreign ministry.

New Zealand is continuing to assess Tonga's water transport logistics capabilities for the transport of water from HMNZS Aotearoa, which will carry bulk water supplies and humanitarian and disaster relief stores, New Zealand Defense Minister Peeni Henare said on Tuesday.

"Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 liters, and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant," Henare said.

Tonga is currently free of COVID-19 and operates strict border controls to keep the virus out. All current support is being delivered in a contactless way. Officials are in discussions around long-term options for support, said New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The New Zealand government has allocated a further 500,000 New Zealand dollars (340,000 US dollars) in humanitarian assistance, taking its initial funding total to 1 million New Zealand dollars.

The tsunami had a significant impact on part of the foreshore of Tonga, with boats and large boulders washed ashore and shops along the coast damaged.

11:33 2022-01-19
Peru opens probe of oil spill blamed on Tonga volcano and tsunami

LIMA - Peruvian prosecutors opened an investigation on Tuesday into a unit of Spanish energy firm Repsol after an oil spill at a local refinery blamed on unusually large waves from the weekend volcano eruption and tsunami in Tonga 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles) away.

The South American country's environmental minister gave the La Pampilla refinery two days to identify the critical points of the spill and to collect within 10 days the oil that affected kilometers of coastline.

A black mass of crude oil could be seen in the water extending some 3 km along the shoreline and affecting the beaches of three coastal districts, which was causing maritime contamination, killing birds and ocean microorganisms.

"This is worrying because it is very difficult to remedy," the Minister of the Environment, Ruben Ramirez, said at a press conference.

Fines could reach up to $33 million if responsibility for environmental damage were proven, Ramirez said.

An undersea volcano near Tonga erupted on Saturday, prompting tsunami warnings and evacuation orders in Japan and causing huge waves on several islands and regions in the South Pacific.

Ramírez had said on Monday that the oil spill had occurred after a ship had been rocked by unusually large waves as it had been unloading crude oil to the La Pampilla Refinery, owned by Spain's Repsol.

On the weekend two people also drowned in Peruvian beaches, which was blamed on the unusual waves.

The National Institute of Civil Defense stated that they already have the spill under control.

The Pampilla Refinery, which said on Sunday there had been "limited spill", said in a statement on Tuesday that it has deployed containment barriers covering the affected areas and the crude was being collected according to protocol.

"Work is being done to return the coastal area to its original state. More than 200 people divided into crews with specialized equipment are carrying out remediation work on Cavero, Bahía Blanca and Santa Rosa beaches," it said.


09:51 2022-01-19
More deaths feared amid Tonga damage
By KARL WILSON in Sydney
A cleaning crew work to remove oil from a beach in the Peruvian province of Callao on Monday. A spill occurred after waves caused by the volcanic eruption in Tonga moved a ship that was transferring oil at a refinery. CRIS BOURONCLE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With 3 fatalities known, officials brace for higher toll from volcano's impact

Tonga's small outer islands suffered extensive damage from a massive volcanic eruption and tsunami, with an entire village destroyed and many buildings missing, a Tongan diplomat said on Tuesday, raising fears of more deaths and injuries.

"People panic, people run and get injuries. Possibly there will be more deaths and we just pray that is not the case," Tonga's deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu'ihalangingie, told Reuters.

He said images taken by New Zealand Defense Force reconnaissance flights showed "alarming "scenes of a village destroyed on Mango island and buildings missing on nearby Atata island.

Atata has a population of about 100 people and Mango about 50.

Tonga's government later on Tuesday confirmed three fatalities in its first official update since Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami, and said the evacuation of some outlying islands had begun after the destruction of homes, and confirmed the loss of all the houses on Mango island.

The archipelago's main airport, Fua'amotu International Airport, was not damaged in Saturday's eruption and tsunami, but heavy ash-fall is preventing full operations, hampering relief efforts.

The United Nations' humanitarian office said Tongan officials had said that clearing the runway would take days, as it was being done manually, with the earliest opening on Wednesday.

China and several other countries had offered help to the nation of 105,000 residents, including $100,000 in emergency humanitarian aid in cash by the Red Cross Society of China.

With limited communications from the main island, Tongatapu, to the outside world, damage is said to be widespread. Tonga is made up of 170 islands and atolls with many of them uninhabited.

Andrew Tupper, principal consultant with Natural Hazards Consulting, an Australia-based hazard warning and response consultancy, said the volcanic eruption near Tonga only reinforces the urgent need "for global cooperation on hazards of all kinds".

"The eruption produced ash, gas, acid rain, tsunami and more. The tsunami wave heights were partially tracked through tide gauges that Australia has supported in the Pacific, and the atmospheric clouds through satellite data operated and shared by Japan and others," Tupper told China Daily in an email.

"Our cooperation as a global community helps us all manage these events, including the impacted countries. But there's lots more to do as we work to manage natural hazards together, better, globally."

Spectacular explosion

Chris Firth, a volcanologist with Sydney's Macquarie University, said that apart from tsunamis, the other major cause for concern will be with ash-fall, alluding to worries about layers of ash falling on neighboring islands.

"This ash covers buildings and infrastructure making recovery difficult, buries gardens and impacts plants with consequences for food supply, and is likely to contaminate water supplies. Ash is also hampering rescue and relief efforts as aircraft cannot fly through it," he said.

"The volcano appears to have quietened (down) for now. However, eruptions of this magnitude are not usually over so quickly and the volcano may continue to be active over coming weeks or months."

Scientists said the explosion, with debris thrown 20 kilometers into the atmosphere, could be heard in Alaska, more than 9,000 km away, and that the sound wave spread out across the Pacific at 1,200 km/h.

Measuring around 1,800 meters high and nearly 20 km wide, the volcano was hidden under the water. Satellite imagery on Monday showed ash covering the whole of Tonga and parts of Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Samoa.

Heather Handley, a volcanologist and adjunct associate professor at Monash University in Melbourne, said the volcano is located in part of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire.

"Here at the plate boundary the Pacific Plate is being pushed down and under the Indo-Australian Plate," she said in an email.

"What we don't know is whether the volcano will produce another large-scale eruption or whether activity will decline. But volcanic activity, however, is likely to continue over the coming days," she said.

Agencies contributed to this story.

09:40 2022-01-19
15-meter tsunami causes 'unprecedented disaster' in Tonga
A grab taken from footage by Japan's Himawari-8 satellite and released by the National Institute of Information and Communications (Japan) on Jan 15, 2022 shows the volcanic eruption that provoked a tsunami in Tonga. [Photo/Agencies]

WELLINGTON - A 15-meter (49-foot) tsunami unleashed by a huge volcanic blast crashed ashore on Tonga last week, demolishing homes and killing at least three people, the island state's government has said.

In an "unprecedented disaster", one village was completely wiped out while only a few houses remained standing in several other settlements scattered across the archipelago, the government said in its first public statement on Saturday's disaster.

At least three people were killed and survivors were left huddled under makeshift shelters, it said.

"An unprecedented disaster hit Tonga," the government said Tuesday following the violent eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano.

Rescue teams have been sent to the worst-hit areas to evacuate residents, it said.

The government said the eruption triggered a tsunami "rising up to 15 meters" which slammed ashore on the west coast of several islands.

The village on Mango island, where a distress beacon was detected earlier in the week, was completely destroyed while only a few houses remained standing in several other villages scattered through the archipelago.

A 65-year-old woman in Mango was one of three people confirmed dead along with a 49-year-old man and British national Angela Glover.

Multiple injuries were also reported, the government said.

Tongan navy vessels carrying health workers and laden with urgent supplies of water, food and tents were being deployed.

"The evacuation process has begun," the government statement said.

Aid efforts have been hampered by a fault in the undersea cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world, with communication to the outer islands limited to satellite phones and radio.

Photos taken by a New Zealand Air Force reconnaissance flight showed a thick volcanic-ash blanket covering the islands which had contaminated supplies of drinking water.

There were also issues with aid arriving from overseas, with damage to wharves and ash on the main airport runway preventing international arrivals.


09:08 2022-01-19
Tonga volcano relief efforts face challenges: UN
A handout photo taken on Jan 17, 2022 and made available by 2022 Planet Labs PBC shows volcanic ash covering Uiha island on Tonga. [Photo/Agencies]

UNITED NATIONS - Relief efforts following the Tonga volcano eruption face the challenge of severed communications, falling ash closing the major airport and strict anti-COVID measures, UN officials said on Tuesday.

They said the casualty toll remained at three dead and an unknown number of people injured.

"Needs assessments by the Tongan authorities are ongoing and should provide a better estimate of what is required of the international community," said Stephane Dujarric, the chief spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "We are on standby with teams and emergency supplies, and stocks in Tonga are being readied for distribution once humanitarian needs are identified."

"Our staff there are working to assist coordination and response efforts in-country," he told a regular press briefing. There are 23 UN workers in Tonga -- 22 local hires and one international staffer.

In a video conference, Jonathan Veitch, the UN acting resident and humanitarian coordinator for Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, spelled out challenges following Saturday's eruption.

Communications within the 36 inhabited of the nation's 169 islands were limited to satellite phones, as was the capital Nuku'alofa and between Tonga and the outside world.

The major submarine communications cable was severed, cutting voice, video and internet services. Still, Veitch said, "I'm able to send basic messages by SMS (Small Message Service --text) to our colleagues through satellite systems, and we hope that soon phones will be back up and running."

While the natural choice for humanitarians is to fly in relief, Veitch said the Nuku'alofa airport remained closed because workers were unable to finish clearing ashfall. He said ships sailing from Australia and New Zealand would take six to eight days to arrive in a Tonga port.

He also said there is a question of just how the authorities would handle people coming to Tonga when it has extremely strict protocols against COVID-19. No cases have been reported in the nation. Authorities are keen to keep the country COVID-free, especially in light of past Pacific island populations wiped out by rampant disease.

While there are no casualties among the 23 UN workers, there are an unknown number of injuries on outlying islands, Veitch said.

He said damage reports from those islands are coming in slowly. The coordinator said it is possible that damage on the outlying islands may not be as severe since they are further from the volcano. The eruption occurred only 65 km from the main island of Tongatapu, home of the capital.

"We are concerned about the water situation," Veitch said. "I haven't heard that people have run out of water which would be obviously an emergency situation. Of course we have heard that shops are running out of food and also there has been quite a lot of ... mass purchasing as always happens in these circumstances, including of water and of food supplies too."

Technicians are examining a desalination plant on the main island to see if it is ready to go back online. The expected ships carry water, food, emergency supplies and even desalination plants.

The sooner, the better to get the supplies, the coordinator said. "It is urgent."

22:10 2022-01-18
2 people die in Tonga's violent volcanic eruption, tsunami
Satellite images show Tonga's Hunga Ha'apai island on April 11, 2021 (L) and Jan 17, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

SUVA - Two people have died in Tonga after the violent eruptions of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, about 65 km north of the country's capital city Nuku'alofa.

According to Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on Tuesday, New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the two deaths.

One of the deaths was British national Angela Glover, who was reported by her family to have been killed by the tsunami caused by Saturday's volcanic eruption. She is believed to have died trying to rescue her dogs at the animal charity she ran.

Tonga police also told the New Zealand High Commission in Nuku'alofa that the confirmed death toll stood at two, but with communications in Tonga cut off, the true extent of casualties in the island nation was not clear.

The report said the tsunami-hit Tonga islands suffered extensive damage, and it is feared that death toll in the island nation would rise.

Tonga's deputy head of mission in Australia Curtis Tu'ihalangingie said that the images taken by the New Zealand military reconnaissance flights showed an entire village destroyed on Mango island and numerous buildings missing on nearby Atata island.

Serious damage has been reported from the west coast of Tonga's main island Tongatapu and a state of emergency has been declared.

On Tuesday afternoon, two New Zealand naval ships carrying fresh water, emergency supplies and diving teams were being sent to Tonga to provide support.

On Friday and Saturday, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano erupted violently and triggered tsunami in Tonga.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano is part of the highly active Tonga-Kermadec Islands volcanic arc, a subduction zone extending from New Zealand north-northeast to Fiji. Over the past decades, the volcano has erupted several times.

21:02 2022-01-18
Chinese man in Tonga found safe from tsunami
By Qiu Quanlin in Guangzhou

A man from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, who works in Tonga, was safe after a volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves crashing onto the Pacific island, according to sources with the Center for Consular Assistance and Protection of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to a Weibo message posted by the center on Monday night, the Chinese embassy in Tonga contacted Zhu Jianxiong, whose wife in Guangzhou had not been able to reach him after the eruption.

The Chinese embassy confirmed in the message that "he is safe at present".

Zhu had been out of contact since Saturday, when he sent his wife messages and transferred a sum of money via WeChat. His last message to her said that "the volcano erupted and the tsunami is coming. I'm going to the airport now."

"I have failed to reach him since then. He has not been home for more than two years," said his wife, surnamed Li.

Zhu works in electronic device maintenance in Tonga, Li said.

Li received a satellite phone call from staff members at the Chinese embassy in Tonga on Monday afternoon.

"They told me that my husband is safe now," she said.

14:53 2022-01-18
Tsunami-hit Tonga islands suffered extensive damage, fears death toll to rise
A satellite image shows the main port facilites before the main eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, December 29, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON - Tonga's small outer islands suffered extensive damage from a massive volcanic eruption and tsunami, a Tongan diplomat said on Tuesday, raising fears of more deaths and injuries.

"Alarming" images taken by New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) reconnaissance flights showed an entire village destroyed on Mango island and numerous buildings missing on nearby Atata island, said the diplomat, Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu'ihalangingie.

"People panic, people run and get injuries," Tu’ihalangingie told Reuters. "Possibly there will be more deaths and we just pray that is not the case."

Tonga police told the New Zealand High Commission that the confirmed death toll stood at two but with communications in the South Pacific island nation cut, the true extent of casualties was not clear.

Australia's Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja said Tongan officials were hoping to evacuate people from the isolated, low-lying Ha'apai islands group and other outer islands where conditions were "very tough, we understand, with many houses being destroyed in the tsunami."

The United Nations had earlier reported a distress signal was detected in Ha'apai, where Mango is located. The Tongan navy reported the area was hit by waves estimated to be 5-10 metres (15-30 feet) high, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Atata and Mango are between about 50 and 70 km from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, which sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and was heard some 2,300 km (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand when it erupted on Saturday.

Atata has a population of about 100 people and Mango around 50 people.

"It is very alarming to see the wave possibly went through Atata from one end to the other," said Tu'ihalangingie.

The NZDF images, which were posted unofficially on a Facebook site and confirmed by Tu'ihalangingie, also showed tarpaulins being used as shelter on Mango island.


10:20 2022-01-18
China sends cash to battered Tonga
By WANG XU in Tokyo and WANG QINGYUN in Beijing
A Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion aircraft prepares to leave Auckland for Tonga on Monday to assist in an initial impact assessment. NEW ZEALAND DEFENSE FORCE/REUTERS

China offered a cash donation to Tonga on Monday after a volcanic eruption and tsunami hit the South Pacific country on Saturday, blocking communications and leaving some 105,000 residents on the islands virtually uncontactable.

"The Red Cross Society of China has decided to provide $100,000 of emergency humanitarian assistance in cash to Tonga," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday.

"China is very concerned about the disaster in Tonga caused by the volcano eruption, and extends deep sympathy and sincere condolences to the Tongan government and people for the severe loss brought by the disaster."

China will provide further assistance within its ability to Tonga according to the situation and needs of Tonga, he added.

On Monday, Australia and New Zealand dispatched surveillance planes to assess the damage in Tonga with initial reports saying that "there were no mass casualties but significant damage to coastal properties and resorts".

Zed Seselja, Australia's minister for the Pacific, said there were no mass casualties, but Australian police have visited beaches and found significant damage with "houses thrown around".

Seselja also said surveillance flights assessed the situation on outer islands where communications were completely cut off. The flights, along with detailed pictures and videos, were due back in Australia and New Zealand on Monday evening.

One British woman named Angela Glover was reported missing after being swept away by a wave. Her husband, who went with her to get their dogs, managed to hold onto a tree. Their dogs were also swept away.

Resort 'wiped out'

Ha'atafu Beach Resort, on the Hihifo Peninsula, 20 kilometers west of Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa, was "completely wiped out", wrote its owners on Facebook.

Meanwhile, two people drowned off a beach in northern Peru due to high waves caused by the tsunami.

Saturday's eruption had caused tsunamis to flood coastlines from Japan to the United States, with some of them reaching heights of 3 meters.

On Monday, Curtis Tu'ihalangingie, Tonga's deputy head of mission in Australia, asked for patience as the Tongan government decides its priorities for aid.

Tonga is concerned about the risk of aid deliveries spreading COVID-19 to the island which is free of the virus.

"We don't want to bring in another wave-a tsunami of COVID-19," Tu'ihalangingie said by telephone. "When people see such a huge explosion, they want to help."

Agencies contributed to this story.

10:09 2022-01-18
First death in Tonga volcano blast as nation remains cut off
A grab taken from footage by Japan's Himawari-8 satellite and released by the National Institute of Information and Communications (Japan) on Jan 15, 2022 shows the volcanic eruption that provoked a tsunami in Tonga. [Photo/Agencies]

SYDNEY - The first death from a massive underwater volcanic blast near the Pacific island nation of Tonga has been confirmed, as the extent of the damage remained unknown Monday.

Tonga remained virtually cut off from the rest of the world, after the eruption crippled communications and stalled emergency relief efforts.

It is two days since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano exploded, cloaking Tonga in a film of ash, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and releasing shock waves that wrapped around the entire Earth.

But with phone lines still down and an undersea internet cable cut -- and not expected to be repaired for weeks -- the true toll of the dual eruption-tsunami disaster is not yet known.

The first known death in Tonga itself was confirmed: that of a British woman swept away by the tsunami. She was identified as Angela Glover, 50, who lived in the Tonga capital with her husband James, Glover's brother Nick Eleini told British media.


08:50 2022-01-18
Possibility of more volcanic blasts, tsunamis after Tonga eruption remains to be seen: US volcanologist
An eruption occurs at the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai off Tonga, Jan 14, 2022 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. [Photo/Agencies]

LOS ANGELES - A volcanologist from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) told local media that whether there would be more volcanic blasts or tsunami warnings for the U.S. West Coast after the underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga remained to be seen.

Wendy Stovall, volcanologist with the USGS Volcano Hazards Program (VHP), was quoted by the local ABC 7 news channel Monday as saying that the eruption near the South Pacific island nation Saturday morning was incredible and tsunami activity is actually harder to predict after an undersea volcano like this than say an earthquake.

"There must have been a very large amount of magma that was exposed, somehow maybe from an underwater landslide or something, that then encountered the sea water and exploded really violently," she said.

Stovall also said that scientists don't know so far if there will be more eruption and how the eruption days ago would affect the earth.

"We will keep an eye out on things as it progresses, but certainly the type of volcano that it is there could be some additional eruptions that are large and could produce more tsunamis or it could just die out," Stovall told KOIN news channel based in Oregon. "We don't really know at this point."

"There is evidence there that volcanism occurred through bodies of water that could send out big, nothing necessarily like what was experienced in Tonga, but could send out big pressure waves and similar stratospheric type of eruptions," noted Stovall.

Stovall said that strong eruptions can sometimes cool the entire earth for a period of years, while noting that so far her colleagues studying data from Tonga have not calculated any numbers to suggest that that is the case here.

Stovall said the volcano near Tonga is regularly active. A smaller eruption started about Dec. 20 but died out before this one set off tsunami warnings.

08:26 2022-01-18
UN, agencies prepare relief efforts following Tonga volcano eruption
Photo taken on Jan 17, 2022 shows the eruption on the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano. [Photo/Agencies]

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations and its agencies are readying relief efforts for the remote South Pacific island nation of Tonga following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, a UN spokesman said on Monday.

"Our humanitarian colleagues and the government report significant infrastructural damage around Tongatapu (the main island) and no contact from the Ha'apai group of islands," said Stephane Dujarric, the chief spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "We are particularly concerned about two small islands, Mango and Fonoi, following surveillance flights confirming substantial property damage."

Australia and New Zealand carried out the flights over the weekend.

While there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries following Saturday's massive eruption, two people were reported missing, Dujarric said.

He said the World Food Programme is mapping efforts to deploy relief supplies and staff. The agency is sending its emergency communications cluster to help restore communications lines in Tonga.

The spokesman said the UN Children's Fund awaits government confirmation before transporting prepositioned emergency supplies from Fiji and Brisbane, Australia, warehouses. Included are essential water, sanitation and hygiene kits, water containers and buckets and water-field test kits, tarps, recreational kits for children and tents.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the tsunami that occurred in the aftermath of the massive eruption has brought extensive damage on the western beaches of Tongatapu, with several resorts and houses destroyed or badly damaged.

Other UN agencies working on relief include the UN Population Fund, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization, the office said. The agencies work closely with relevant authorities in Tonga, humanitarian partners and donor countries.

The New Zealand and Australian governments announced emergency funding for the immediate aid response, and Australia is preparing a vessel to sail to Tonga with relief supplies, OCHA said.

The Red Cross offered assistance and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community is providing technical support on the impact of the eruption and ashfall, the office said. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community is an international development organization comprising 22 Pacific island countries and territories.

Tonga's National Emergency Management Office is leading assessments and government response. The Tonga Red Cross Society and OCHA provide communication support.

The humanitarian office said there was no serious impact on Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands besides limited flooding.

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