WORLD NEWS

New Zealand sends flight to see damage from Pacific volcano

Jan 16, 2022, 2:37 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:41 pm
GOES satellite imagery captured the eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga in the Pacific Oce...
GOES satellite imagery captured the eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga in the Pacific Ocean early Saturday morning. (National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s military on Monday morning was able to send a surveillance flight to Tonga to assess the extent of the damage from a huge undersea volcanic eruption.

A towering ash cloud had prevented the military from launching any flights earlier to the Pacific island nation.

People on Tonga described their country as looking like a moonscape as they began the task of cleaning up from the tsunami waves and ash fall caused by the eruption. Communications with the island nation remained limited after the internet was cut soon after the eruption on Saturday evening.

There were no reports of injuries or deaths, although concerns remained for the fate of people on some of the smaller islands near the volcano.

Meanwhile, scientists said they didn’t think the eruption would have a significant impact on the Earth’s climate.

Huge volcanic eruptions can sometimes cause global cooling as sulfur dioxide is pumped into the stratosphere. But in the case of the Tonga eruption, initial satellite measurements indicated the amount of sulfur dioxide released would only have a tiny effect of perhaps 0.01 Celsius (0.02 Fahrenheit) global average cooling, said Alan Robock, a professor at Rutgers University.

Satellite images showed the spectacular undersea eruption Saturday evening, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific waters.

A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska and sent pressure shockwaves around the planet twice, altering atmospheric pressure that may have briefly helped clear out the fog in Seattle, according to the National Weather Service. Large waves were detected as far as the Caribbean due to pressure changes generated by the eruption.

In Tonga it sent tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground.

With internet and phone lines down, friends and family members around the world were left anxiously trying to get in touch.

Government websites and other official sources remained without updates on Sunday afternoon.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Sunday there had not yet been any official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, but cautioned that authorities hadn’t yet made contact with some coastal areas and smaller islands.

“Communication with Tonga remains very limited. And I know that is causing a huge amount of anxiety for the Tongan community here,” Ardern said.

She said there had been significant damage to boats and shops along the Tongan coastline. The capital, Nuku’alofa, was covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, Ardern said, contaminating water supplies and making fresh water a vital need.

Aid agencies said thick ash and smoke had prompted authorities to ask people to wear masks and drink bottled water.

In a video posted on Facebook, Nightingale Filihia was sheltering at her family’s home from a rain of volcanic ash and tiny pieces of rock that turned the sky pitch black.

“It’s really bad. They told us to stay indoors and cover our doors and windows because it’s dangerous,” she said. “I felt sorry for the people. Everyone just froze when the explosion happened. We rushed home.” Outside the house, people were seen carrying umbrellas for protection.

Ardern said New Zealand was unable to send a surveillance flight over Tonga on Sunday because the ash cloud was 63,000 feet (19,000 meters) high but they hoped to try again on Monday, followed by supply planes and navy ships.

One complicating factor to any international aid effort is that Tonga has so far managed to avoid any outbreaks of COVID-19. Ardern said New Zealand’s military staff were all fully vaccinated and willing to follow any protocols established by Tonga.

Dave Snider, the tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, said it was very unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect an entire ocean basin, and the spectacle was both “humbling and scary.”

The tsunami waves caused damage to boats as far away as New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California, but did not appear to cause any widespread damage. In northern Peru’s Lambayeque region, two women drowned after being swept away by ″abnormal waves″ following the eruption, authorities said.

Tsunami advisories were earlier issued for Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Pacific coast. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the eruption caused the equivalent of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake. Scientists said tsunamis generated by volcanoes rather than earthquakes are relatively rare.

Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau, who chairs the New Zealand Tonga Business Council, said she hoped the relatively low level of the tsunami waves would have allowed most people to get to safety, although she worried about those living on islands closest to the volcano. She said she hadn’t yet been able to contact her friends and family in Tonga.

“We are praying that the damage is just to infrastructure and people were able to get to higher land,” she said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter he is “deeply concerned for the people of Tonga as they recover from the aftermath of a volcanic eruption and tsunami. The United States stands prepared to provide support to our Pacific neighbors.”

Tonga gets its internet via an undersea cable from Suva, Fiji. All internet connectivity with Tonga was lost at about 6:40 p.m. local time Saturday, said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for the network intelligence firm Kentik.

On Tonga, which is home to about 105,000 people, video posted to social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas and swirling around homes, a church and other buildings. A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted video showing waves crashing ashore.

“Can literally hear the volcano eruption, sounds pretty violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness blanketing the sky.”

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa, was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions. In late 2014 and early 2015, eruptions created a small new island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC had watched the island in recent days after a new volcanic vent began erupting in late December. Satellite images showed how drastically the volcano had shaped the area, creating a growing island off Tonga.

“The surface area of the island appears to have expanded by nearly 45% due to ashfall,” Planet Labs said days before the latest activity.

It’s too early to tell how much ash was produced by the eruption because the volcanic cloud included vapor resulting from sea water interacting with the hot magma, experts said.

The eruption in shallow water may be similar to a series of eruptions between 2016 and 2017 that shaped Bogoslof Island north of the Aleutian Islands, said Michelle Coombs, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Volcano Observatory.

“When it erupts in shallow sea water, that interaction between hot magma and sea water adds extra energy to the explosion and creates taller and bigger ash clouds,” Coombs said.

The ash cloud was drifting westward and aircrafts will be likely diverted around its periphery as a precaution, said Scott Bachmeier, a research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

World News

Utah Task Force 1 Headquarters (KSL-TV)...
Jed Boal

Utah Task Force 1 gives insight into search & rescue efforts in Turkey

Two American search & rescue teams similar to Utah's Task Force 1 are heading off to Turkey to help the country recover from a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake.
1 day ago
Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover debris from a suspected Chinese sur...
Haley Britzky

US Navy releases photos of Chinese spy balloon recovery effort

The U.S. Navy released photos Tuesday of its recovery effort of a suspected Chinese spy balloon, which U.S. fighter jets shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
1 day ago
A baby girl who was born under the rubble caused by an earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey receive...
Ghaith Alsayed and Bassem Mroue, Associated Press

Newborn, toddler saved from rubble in quake-hit Syrian town

Residents digging through a collapsed building in a northwest Syrian town discovered a crying infant whose mother appears to have given birth to her while buried underneath the rubble from this week’s devastating earthquake.
1 day ago
Earthquake victims receive treatment at the al-Rahma Hospital in the town of Darkush, Idlib provinc...
Lauren Steinbrecher

Utah Turkish American Association finding ways to help after 7.8 earthquake

In Utah, Turkish Americans are desperately trying to get news from home, and one group is starting to think of how Utahns can help bring relief to their home country.
1 day ago
Smoke billows from the Iskenderun Port as rescue workers work at the scene of a collapsed building ...
Mehmet Guzel, Ghaith Alsayed and Suzan Fraser

Race to find survivors as quake aid pours into Turkey, Syria

Search teams and emergency aid from around the world are pouring into Turkey and Syria as rescuers working in freezing temperatures dig through the remains of buildings flattened by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake.
1 day ago
Elif Ekin was born in Turkey, and now owns and operates Kahve Cafe in Salt Lake City. (KSL-TV)...
Jed Boal

‘It’s devastating:’ Utahn born in Turkey expresses her concerns after 7.8 earthquake

A Salt Lake City café owner was born not too far from the epicenter of the 7.8 Turkey earthquake and still has family and friends in that area.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
New Zealand sends flight to see damage from Pacific volcano