Tsunami hits Tonga & cut off most of its communications, New Zealand prepares to send aid

The extent of the damage is still unclear.

Zi Shan Kow | January 16, 2022, 05:08 PM

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A massive volcanic eruption off the coast of the Pacific Island country of Tonga on Jan. 15 has cut off phone and internet communications for its 105,000 residents.

Felt around the world

The earthquake caused by the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano recorded a magnitude of 5.8.

The eruption lasted for eight minutes and caused a 1.2m tsunami wave in Tonga's capital 64km away, according to the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia.

The sonic boom from the eruption was audible even in Alaska, said the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute.

Waves were observed in American Samoa and Fiji, while tsunami warnings were triggered across the Pacific in Australia, Japan, and the west coast of the United States, reported The Guardian.

Telecommunications affected

AP News reported that the eruption severed communications with Tonga about 1.5 hours after the eruption at around 6:40pm local time, likely due to damage to the undersea internet cable between Tonga and Fiji.

It is very unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect an entire ocean basin, said tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center Dave Snider.

While the tsunami waves caused damage to boats as far away as New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California, there has not been any widespread damage.

The tsunami threat from the eruption has now passed, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

No deaths or injuries so far

The New Zealand government has since made contact with its embassy in Tonga's capital, said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference on Jan. 16.

Ardern said that Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa has suffered “significant damage", reported The Japan Times.

“Nuku’alofa is covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, but otherwise conditions are calm and stable,” said Ardern.

She noted that no deaths or injuries have been reported so far, but added that authorities have not yet made contact with some coastal areas and smaller islands.

Ardern has also made an initial pledge of NZ$500,000 (S$458,000) in financial aid to Tonga.

Given the presence of ash clouds in the area, she announced that New Zealand will be sending a reconnaissance flight as soon as atmospheric conditions allow.

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Top images by Jacinda Ardern/Instagram and Planet Labs.