Tonga calls for “immediate aid” following tsunami and volcanic eruption

Jan 17, 2022: An underwater volcano erupted near Tonga on Saturday, triggering 1.2-meter tsunami waves and evacuation orders along Tonga’s shores and several islands in the South Pacific, with footage on social media showing waves crashing in to coastal homes. 

Internet and phone lines shut down at about 6:40 p.m. As of Saturday, local time, 105,000 islanders could not be reached for comment.

The eruptions have had a significant impact on the South Pacific island country, especially its capital Nuku’alofa.

The full extent of the natural disaster was not apparent as communications were still cut off on Sunday.

Tonga is calling for “immediate aid” with an urgent need for fresh water and food, as it estimates the damage caused by the Hunga-Tonga-Hanga-Hapai eruption on Saturday. The volcano erupted on Saturday with a massive explosion – the largest in the Philippines since Pinatubo in 1991 – which triggered a tsunami and reduced the Pacific island nation to ashes.

Lord Fakafanua, the parliament speaker said on social media, “Communications remain down and the full extent of the harm to lives and property is currently unknown. What we do know is that Tonga needs immediate assistance to provide its citizens with fresh drinking water and food.”

Another eruption following the initial explosion at Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai triggered the appeal.

Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance flights to Tonga on Monday to assess the damage and said they were liaising with the United States, France and other countries on a humanitarian response. Australia’s Minister for the Pacific, Z. Cecilja, said initial reports indicated no large-scale casualties and that the airport “appears to be in relatively good condition” but that “significant damage has been done to roads and bridges.”

The Red Cross has offered to help, and the Pacific Islands Forum has said it is ready to help, which it described as “once in a thousand years of natural disasters.”

Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday said China is ready to provide every possible form of support and assistance to Tonga after the country was hit by continuous volcanic eruptions and the ensuing tsunami waves.

“China extends deep condolences and sincere sympathies to the government and people of Tonga, and stands ready to provide every possible support and assistance at Tonga’s request,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a statement.

The effects of Saturday’s eruption were felt in other Pacific island nations, such as Fiji, where a video shared on social media recorded explosive explosions, and in North and South America. A vast cloud of ash is now spreading westward towards Australia.

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