Tonga news - live: Three dead and homes destroyed as scale of volcano eruption damage emerges

·18 min read

Three people are confirmed dead in Tonga - including one British national - and all homes on one island have been destroyed, says the government after an underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami on Saturday devastated the Polynesian country.

Telecommunication bosses say the islands could be cut off from the world for weeks, after an undersea cable was severed and the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai volcano left the country covered in ash.

Fears of a possible humanitarian crisis developing in Tonga are growing as details of the damage of Saturday’s natural disaster are learned.

Samiuela Fonua, the chairperson of the state-owned Tonga Cable Ltd which owns and operates the cable, told the Guardian that repair operations to fix the damage could take two weeks but warned of the threat of continuing volcanic activity to efforts, which would need to enter the Tongatapu waters close to the site of the eruption.

New Zealand and Australia have conducted surveillance flights to assess the damage with images revealing Tonga covered in a blanket of ash, hampering relief efforts as the nation’s airport runways are also compromised.

New Zealand’s Acting High Commissioner to Tonga, Peter Lund, said the local government had declared a state of emergency.

Key Points

  • Three confirmed dead and all homes destroyed on one island, government says

  • Tonga could be ‘cut off for weeks’

  • Ash on airport runway blocking New Zealand relief efforts

  • Images show a ‘blanket of ash’ covering the island

16:12 , Furvah Shah

That is all for our coverage on the Tonga volcanic eruption and tsunami today.

Thank you for reading our live updates and for more news on Tonga, click here.

Tonga volcano and tsnuma: What we know so far

15:59 , Furvah Shah

The eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga has caused widespread devastation in the Polynesian country and its islands.

The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano sent tsunami waves around the world on Saturday, impacting countries such as Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.

The initial blast could be seen by satellites in space, and the extent of the impact on the country - situated near Fiji, New Zealand and Australia - is not yet understood due to limited contact.

The blast caused a undersea communication cable to sever, resulting in little to no communication with Tongan residents and aid workers since the tsunami.

Australia and New Zealand are in the process of sending relief to the nation, and a humanitarian crisis is a possibility.

Before and after images of Tonga volcano show damage scale

15:31 , Furvah Shah

Images before and after the aftermath of the Tonga volcanic explosion show the scale of the damage to the Polynesian nation.

Volcanic ash and fumes have overtaken the country’s small islands and devastated communities, with all homes on the island of Mango being destroyed by the blast and subsequent tsunami.

Plane surveillance images shared by The Telegraph show what experts are predicting to be the beginnings of a climate problem and humanitarian crisis.

Health warnings issues over volcanic ash

15:05 , Furvah Shah

Tongan residents are being advised to stay indoors after the volcanic explosion showered ash over the country’s islands.

Gas, smoke and debris from the underwater volcano blasted up to 20km into the sky, and while volcanic activity has significantly decreased, the government is continuing to monitor the situation.

Locals have been advised to drink bottled water and to wear masks if they do go outdoors, in order to avoid breathing in volcanic ash.

Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, told the BBC: “There will be health concerns as people are breathing it, especially with a huge clean-up mission that is happening in Tonga now.

“About 200 volunteers, people coming to sweep the runway for the airport. We have to do it but we know that there will be a long-term problem because people are breathing this ash, which is very dangerous.”

Volunteers are sweeping airport runways to make it possible for aid from other countries to arrive in Tonga.

Over $375,000 raised for Tonga relief

14:45 , Furvah Shah

Over $375,000 has been raised to aid the relief effort in Tonga following the country’s volcanic eruption and tsunami.

A GoFundMe created by Tongan Olympian, Pita Taufatofua, has received over 7,000 donations in just two days.

The ongoing fundraiser aims to raise funds to provide assistance to those affected by the natural disaster and help with immediate relief efforts.

The fundraiser’s goal is to raise $1 million Australian dollars for the cause along with posting regular updates on the situation in Tonga.

Tongan Olympian unable to contact family since tsunami

14:15 , Furvah Shah

Tongan Olympian athlete, Pita Taufatofua, has not been able to contact his family since the tsunami struck the county.

Mr Taufatofua, a dual-sport athlete in taekwondo and cross-country skiing, is among many who have not been able to contact their loved ones in Tongo since communication to the country was lost following the volcanic eruption.

On Twitter on January 15, he said: “No word from my Father or Family in Haapai. All communication in Tonga is out.”

Pita Taufatofua, pictured on the right leading the Tongan team out during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, has been unable to contact his loved ones since the natural disaster. (Getty Images)
Pita Taufatofua, pictured on the right leading the Tongan team out during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, has been unable to contact his loved ones since the natural disaster. (Getty Images)

In a later Tweet, he said: “Many Tongans around the World are in the exact same situation as me, thinking of and unable to contact their family in the islands. My situation is not unique.”

Mr Taufatofua, who currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, has still not able to speak with his father – who he says is the Governor of Ha’apai, a group of Tongan islands - or other family members.

Tonga’s volcanic eruption could harm environment for years, scientists say

13:52 , Furvah Shah

The impact of Tonga’s volcanic eruption could harm local coral reefs, fisheries and coastlines for years to come, scientists say.

Since the initial eruption on January 15, the volcano has been releasing fumes of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide which could result in acid rain when they make contact with water and oxygen in the atmosphere.

“There is likely to be acid rain around Tonga for a while to come” due to Tonga’s tropical climate, said volcanologist Shane Cronin at the University of Auckland to Reuters.

Acid rain can cause widespread damage to crops, potentially ruining Tongan staples like taro, corn, bananas and garden vegetables.

In the ocean, the ash from the volcanic eruption could be toxic to sea and marine life.

Corals and coastlines could also be impacted, as the blast causes more damaging iron to be released into the water and the subsequent tsunami erodes coastlines.

This is particularly concerning for Tonga, where climate change is driving sea levels to rise by about six millimeters per year — double the global average, according to Reuters.

Hundreds of Bitcoin donations made for Tonga relief funds

13:15 , Furvah Shah

Hundreds of Bitcoin donations have been made to a Tonga relief fund set up to aid recovery efforts following the natural disaster.

Tongan politician and crypto-currency advocate, Lord Fusitu’a, set up the fund and the BTC wallet has received more than $40,000 through 250 separate donations within three days of going live.

Anthony Cuthbertson has the full story:

Tonga receives hundreds of bitcoin donations after volcano devastation

China to donate $100,000 to Tonga relief effort

13:03 , Furvah Shah

A spokesperson for China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, has sent condolences to the government and people of Tonga, and said the Red Cross Society of China will donate $100,000 of humanitarian aid to the country.

They said: “We will offer assistance to the best of our capacity based on the situation and the needs of Tonga.”

The country’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, also said: “We’re ready to help the Tonga government & people overcome this disaster and rebuild their homeland to the best of our capabilities.”

Tonga government release first official statement after disaster, confirming three casualties

11:56 , Furvah Shah

The government of Tonga have released their first official statement after the volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated the country.

The government confirmed three casualties, including 50-year-old British national, Angela Glover, a 65-year-old woman from Mango island and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka island. A number of injuries have also been reported.

Emergency help teams are prioritising aid to the islands of Mango, Nomuka and Fonoifua as all reportedly suffered severe damage, with all homes on Mango island destroyed and just two remaining on Fonoifua.

The country also reported severe disruption to its domestic and international communication and internet services, due to the severing of an underwater cable. As of January 18, some communication has been made with the islands of Vava’u and Ha’apai and domestic calls are operating within Tongatapu and ‘Eua islands.

Evacuation processes are underway on affected islands, and challenges to sea and air travel remain due to the extent of the blast’s damage.

They said: “Even though the tsunami warning has been cancelled and volcanic activity has significantly decreased, monitoring efforts continue.”

Fears of Covid-19 arriving in Tonga arise as aid efforts begin

11:35 , Furvah Shah

As local and international aid efforts to support Tonga in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption and tsunami begin, fears of Covid-19 arriving to the small nation are arising.

The Tongan islands have roughly 100,000 residents and shut off their borders to non-nationals in 2020, and are yet to re-open them.

Australia and New Zealand are both set to provide assistance to Tonga via air and sea, while the UN also have plans to offer help to the Polynesian nation.

Jonathan Pryke, the director of the Pacific Islands Program at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, told the New York Times: “The front-of-mind issue has to be: How do we 100 percent ensure that we don’t bring Covid to this country?”

“Whatever good will might be built up by the response would be completely undone if they bring Covid into Tonga.”

Husband of charity worker who died in Tonga tsunami is ‘guilt-ridden'

11:05 , Furvah Shah

The husband of a charity worker who died in the Tonga tsunami is “guilt-ridden” over the tragedy, his wife’s family have said.

Angela Glover, a 50-year-old animal charity worker from Brighton, died trying to save her dogs after an underwater volcano erupted near the Pacific island on Saturday.

Angela Glover’s husband is said to be “shattered” by his wife’s death. (Angela Glover/Facebook)
Angela Glover’s husband is said to be “shattered” by his wife’s death. (Angela Glover/Facebook)

Her brother, Nick Eleini, said he managed to speak to Ms. Glover’s surviving husband, James Glover, on Monday evening after her body was found.

The island is still facing communication issues after an underwater cable was severed during the natural disaster.

Mr Eleini told BBC Breakfast: “I was able to speak to James last night. He’s been able to communicate with us via satellite phone from the British Embassy. He’s safe, he has all his basic needs covered, he has shelter, food, water and money.

“I don’t believe he sustained any serious injuries. He is naturally just shattered and guilt-ridden as to the events that took place. He’s quite naturally blaming himself for not being able to save Angela.

“It doesn’t matter how many times we tell him he has nothing to reproach himself for. He is carrying an incredible burden of guilt at the moment.”

Mr Eleini said Mr Glover told him the full extent of the damage to the island is going to be “quite apparent” in the coming days.

“I think there is going to be a major humanitarian disaster unfolding there. I hope not, but there’s a lot of outlying islands in Tonga that haven’t been reached that people still need to get to,” he said.

“As far as the main island where James and Angela were living, I believe is quite flat, so the wave from the tsunami would have extended quite a way over the land, particularly on that north and west coast.

“A lot of the infrastructure is above ground; that has probably been completely destroyed.”

Two women drown on Peru beach after Tonga volcanic eruption 10,000 km away

10:40 , Furvah Shah

Two women have died in Peru after an underwater volcanic eruption off Tonga, more than 10,000km away, caused high waves which ‘swept them away’.

The women were identified as 46-year-old Heyner Quiroz and 23-year-old Wendy Altamirano, who “were surprised by successive waves” that pulled and drowned them on Naylamp beach in Lambayeque, northern Peru.

The bodies were found by officers from the Naylamp beach police station, the police said on Twitter.

The eruption of underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai off Tonga prompted tsunami warnings around the Pacific, which were later receded on Sunday.

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar has the full story:

Tonga: Two women drown on Peru beach after volcanic eruption 10,000 km away

Body found in search of British woman missing in Tonga

10:15 , Furvah Shah

A body has been found in the search for a British woman living in Tonga following the tsunami that hit the country on Saturday, her brother has told The Independent.

Angela Glover, 50, was separated from her husband, James, when the tsunami caused by an underwater volcanic eruption hit their coastal home in the low-lying Veitongo area of the country.

Mr Glover was able to hold on to a tree, but Ms Glover and their dogs were reportedly swept away. Her brother, Nick Eleini, has now told The Independent that a body has been discovered in the search for the animal charity worker.

Holly Bancroft has the full story:

Body found in search for UK woman swept away in Tonga tsunami, brother says

Lizz Truss shares support for Tonga after natural disaster

10:01 , Furvah Shah

Liz Truss, the UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, has said Britain is working closely with Tonga authorities to support in the aftermath of the disaster.

She said the UK “stands ready to help the recovery effort” in a Tweet posted on 17th January, 2022.

She described the event as an “appalling devastation and loss of life”.

Experts predict Tonga eruption impact on environment and communities

09:40 , Furvah Shah

As governments and aid agencies prepare to offer support to Tonga following the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsumani, experts have commented on the potential impacts of the natural disaster to New Zealand’s Science Media Centre.

Doctors and professors from the School of Psychology in Massey University, New Zealand said: “Emerging impacts from the tsunami and volcanic eruption will include impacts to physical and mental health, exacerbation of disparities, secondary impacts, and negative economic consequences. These recent events are nested in the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and climate change.

In a joint statement by Associate Professor Siautu Alefaio, Dr. Maureen Mooney, Professor David Johnston and Associate Professor Julia Becker, they added: “Evidence from previous disaster research suggests that psychosocial needs are immediate and are likely to continue long term.

“Psychosocial recovery plans and interventions need, as much as possible, to be culturally relevant and evidence informed, flexible enough to stay relevant to the evolving context, address disparities, and adapt to and reflect different cultural and community contexts. It is clear, also that successful recovery will require strong community mobilisation, engagement, and participation.

“Past events have shown how the Tongan diaspora will also provide long-term support for recovery, as it’s based on familial ties, and evidence of remittances reveals this. Community recovery is about regeneration.

“For Pacific nations this is achieved through faith, family and church-village mobilisation. The Pacific diaspora has and will continue to lead sustainable recovery efforts with the right supports.”

Tonga volcano eruption that triggered tsunami captured by satellite

09:24 , Furvah Shah

The volcanic eruption in Tonga that triggered the tsunami was spotted from space in satellite footage.

The footage, recorded by an Earth-orbiting satellite, shows the moment the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano erupted in the South Pacific sea.

According to local officials, the blast had a radius of 260 km and sent ash, steam and gas 20 kilometers into the surrounding air. It was also around seven times more powerful than a previous eruption on 20 December, 2021.

UN humanitarian teams working on offering support to Tonga

08:59 , Furvah Shah

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with other UN agencies and partners are working on supporting Tonga amidst crises caused by the volcanic eruption.

Staff based in Tonga are assisting with immediate response efforts, with the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) convened in Suva, Fiji today to discuss challenges and next steps.

Communications, logistics and water sanitation were top priorities for assisting humanitarian teams.

Tongan diaspora share fears for loved ones

08:40 , Furvah Shah

Members of the Tongan diaspora have shared their fears and concerns for loved ones who they have been unable to contact since the volcanic eruption.

Seini Taumoepeau, a Tongan-Australian artists and activist living in Sydney, told The Guardian she has barely slept since Saturday and fears for her uncle who is disabled and lives in Tongatapu.

She said: “We weren’t able to contact him... I’m in contact with him every day via Messenger, not only because he’s a disabled person but also because my parents have already passed, so he’s my parent.”

For the roughly 15,000 Tongan-Australians and more than 80,000 Tongans in New Zealand, the distressing wait for news on their loved ones continues.

Scale of volcano damage on communities emerging

08:14 , Thomas Kingsley

Buildings and green vegetation in Tongatapu are visibly darkened by ash deposits following Saturday’s eruption.

Images show a ‘blanket of ash’ covering the island

08:11 , Thomas Kingsley

Surveillance images from the New Zealand Defence Force have shown a ‘blanket of ash’ covering Tonga as details of the damage begin to emerge.

Aid agencies have warned that volcanic dust and the tsunami may have contaminated Tonga’s water supplies while New Zealand foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta added that “water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage”.

 (New Zealand Defense Force)
(New Zealand Defense Force)

Ash on airport runway blocking New Zealand relief efforts

08:08 , Thomas Kingsley

Images from New Zealand’s surveillance of the damage have shown a blanket of ash covering much of Tonga including the capital's main airport runway, hampering relief efforts.

New Zealand foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta said a C-130 Hercules aircraft was on standby to fly to Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa to deliver humanitarian aid including collapsible water containers, generators and hygiene kits.

“However images show ashfall on the Nuku'alofa airport runway that must be cleared before (the plane) can land,” she said.

On Monday about 200 Tongans had started sweeping the runway yesterday, successfully clearing a 100m (330ft) stretch of tarmac, but there remained “a long way to go”, according to 1News reporter Barbara Dreaver.

 (Australian Department of Defence)
(Australian Department of Defence)

Tonga could be ‘cut off for weeks’ say telecommunication bosses

08:04 , Furvah Shah

Tonga could be cut off from the world for weeks, telecommunication bosses on the island have said after the eruption and tsunami damaged a critical undersea cable.

Samiuela Fonua, the chairperson of the state-owned Tonga Cable Ltd which owns and operates the cable, told the Guardian that repair operations to fix the damage could take two weeks but warned of the threat of continuing volcanic activity to efforts which would need to enter the Tongatapu waters close to the site of the eruption.

“We are just going through our preparations for the repair operation to start possibly next week,” he told the Guardian. “With luck we can have our cable ready within the next two weeks.

“The main concern now is with the volcanic activities because our cables are pretty much on the same zone.”

Read the full story here:

Tonga could be cut off for weeks after eruption damaged undersea cable

Welcome

07:57 , Thomas Kingsley

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s coverage of the aftermath of Saturday’s Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption just off Tonga.

We’ll be bringing you the latest updates from the island and the surrounding South Pacific region.

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