Sunday, May 22

Weather report. Eruption and tsunami in Tonga: “significant damage”, but a population cut off from the world

Many families were desperately awaiting news on Monday from loved ones on the Tonga Islands, cut off from the world since last week’s powerful volcanic eruption that triggered a tsunami in the Pacific.

The archipelago is deprived of telephone and internet connections, the cataclysm having severed an essential cable for its communications which should not be repaired for weeks. And the cloud of volcanic ash prevents planes from landing.

Information from this country of barely 100,000 people is trickling in from rare satellite phones, and the true extent of the damage remains largely unknown.

New Zealand and Australia sent military reconnaissance planes on Monday to try to assess the extent of the damage from the air and determine what the most urgent aid needs are, according to the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “We know water is an immediate need,” she told reporters. The two countries have also mobilized C-130 military transport planes, ready to take off for Tonga once the ash cloud has dissipated to parachute aid there, or even land there if the state of the runways allows it.

The eruption, one of the most powerful in recent decades in the world, was heard as far away as Alaska. It triggered a tsunami that flooded the coasts of the United States to Chile and Japan, and killed two people in Peru. Ash and acid rain battered much of the Pacific.

“We don’t know anything”

“I think the worst thing is the cut and the fact that we don’t know anything,” said Filipo Motulalo, a Tongan journalist who works in New Zealand for Pacific Media Network. “There is no communication,” he added. “Our house is one of those close to the area that has already been flooded, so we don’t know what the damage is. »

Ms Ardern said on Sunday that the New Zealand government had established satellite contact with the country’s high commission in Nuku’alofa. According to her, no casualties have been reported in the capital, but there is “significant” damage in certain areas. Australia’s Minister for International Development, Zed Seselja, said Australian police stationed in Tonga had sent a “rather worrying” report.

A usable airport

“Roads and some houses have suffered quite significant damage”, but “one of the good news (…) is that the airport has not suffered any significant damage”, declared the minister. “It is very, very important because as soon as the ash cloud clears we will be able to send humanitarian flights to Tonga,” he added.

“From what little information we have, the scale of devastation could be immense, especially for the most isolated islands,” said Katie Greenwood of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Stunning views taken from space late last week show the timing of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption, on one of Tonga’s uninhabited islands: a huge mushroom of smoke and ash 30 km high , immediately followed by the onset of a tsunami.

The ground shook, the whole house shook. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding near our house

1.2 meter waves swept over Nuku’alofa, where residents fled to higher ground, leaving behind flooded homes as rocks and ash fell from the sky. “It was a huge explosion,” Tongan resident Mere Taufa told the Stuff news site. “The ground shook, the whole house shook. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding near our house.” A few minutes later, water invaded their house up to the ceiling.

Repairing the cable that Tonga depends on for communications “could take up to two weeks”, said Southern Cross Cable Network director of networks Dean Veverka. “The nearest vessel for laying the cable is in Port Moresby”, the capital of Papua New Guinea, located more than 4,000 kilometers from Tonga, he explained.

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