Volcanic ash big concern after Tonga tsunami

Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance flights to assess damage in Tonga on Monday (January 17).

The Pacific island has been isolated from the rest of the world after the eruption of a volcano on Saturday (January 14) that triggered a tsunami and completely cut off phone and internet lines.

Telephone networks in Tonga have since been restored but ash was posing a major health concern, contaminating drinking water.

And now there are concerns over the risk of aid deliveries spreading COVID-19 to Tonga, which is currently COVID-free.

Alexander Matheou is The Red Cross Asia Pacific Director:

"So the challenge is nobody is in contact with anybody on the island, and therefore we are all a bit in the dark about exactly the scale of the damage or what people are experiencing. What we do know is that the ashfall has been significant and the tsunami waves have been destructive, but we don't know the extent of the damage."

The force of the eruption was felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States, and Japan.

Two people drowned off a beach in Northern Peru due to high waves caused by the tsunami.

The impact of the destruction and death toll in Tonga, if any, is still unknown but the Red Cross says up to 80,000 people could be affected.

The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano was so powerful that space satellites captured an atmospheric shockwave that radiated out from the volcano at close to the speed of sound.

Scientists said they’re now struggling to monitor the active volcano, as the explosion destroyed its sea-level crater and drowned its mass, obscuring it from satellites.

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