WORLD NEWS

Flights sent to assess Tonga damage after volcanic eruption

Jan 17, 2022, 5:41 AM | Updated: 10:55 am
In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, an Orion aircraft is prepared at a base in...
In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, an Orion aircraft is prepared at a base in Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, before flying to assist the Tonga government after the eruption of an undersea volcano. (NZDF)
(NZDF)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand and Australia were able to send military surveillance flights to Tonga on Monday to assess the damage a huge undersea volcanic eruption left in the Pacific island nation.

A towering ash cloud since Saturday’s eruption had prevented earlier flights. New Zealand hopes to send essential supplies, including much-needed drinking water, on a military transport plane Tuesday.

A British woman who was missing has been found dead, her family said, in the first reported fatality on Tonga.

The brother of Angela Glover, who ran an animal rescue center, said the 50-year-old died after being swept away by a wave.

Nick Eleini said his sister’s body had been found and that her husband survived.

“I understand that this terrible accident came about as they tried to rescue their dogs,” Eleini told Sky News.

He said it had been his sister’s life dream” to live in the South Pacific and “she loved her life there.”

Communications with Tonga remained extremely limited. The company that owns the single underwater fiber-optic cable that connects the island nation to the rest of the world said it likely was severed in the eruption and repairs could take weeks.

The loss of the cable leaves most Tongans unable to use the internet or make phone calls abroad. Those that have managed to get messages out described their country as looking like a moonscape as they began cleaning up from the tsunami waves and volcanic ash fall.

Tsunami waves of about 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) crashed into Tonga’s shoreline, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described damage to boats and shops on Tonga’s shoreline. The waves crossed the Pacific, drowning two people in Peru and causing minor damage from New Zealand to Santa Cruz, California.

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

Missionaries in Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission safe; no contact yet with Tonga Outer Island Mission

Huge volcanic eruptions can sometimes cause temporary 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 away as the Caribbean due to pressure changes generated by the eruption.

Samiuela Fonua, who chairs the board at Tonga Cable Ltd. which owns the single cable that connects Tonga to the outside world via Fiji, said the cable appeared to have been severed about 10 to 15 minutes after the eruption. He said the cable lies atop and within coral reef, which can be sharp.

Fonua said a ship would need to pull up the cable to assess the damage and then crews would need to fix it. A single break might take a week to repair, he said, while multiple breaks could take up to three weeks. He added that it was unclear yet when it would be safe for a ship to venture near the undersea volcano to undertake the work.

A second undersea cable that connects the islands within Tonga also appeared to have been severed, Fonua said. However, a local phone network was working, allowing Tongans to call each other. But he said the lingering ash cloud was continuing to make even satellite phone calls abroad difficult.

He said Tonga, home to 105,000 people, had been in discussions with New Zealand about getting a second international fiber-optic cable to ensure a more robust network but the nation’s isolated location made any long-term solution difficult.

The cable also broke three years ago, possibly due to a ship dragging an anchor. At first Tongans had no access to the internet but then some limited access was restored using satellites until the cable was repaired.

Ardern said the capital, Nuku’alofa, was covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, 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.

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 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.

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

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.

___

Associated Press journalists Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

World News

KHARKIV OBLAST, UKRAINE - MAY 20: A Ukrainian Army officer speaks by radio on a frontline position ...
ELENA BECATOROS, OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and CIARAN McQUILLAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Russia’s claim of Mariupol’s capture fuels concern for POWs

Concern mounted Saturday over Ukrainian fighters who became prisoners at the end of Russia's brutal three-month siege of Mariupol, as a Moscow-backed separatist leader vowed they would face tribunals.
22 hours ago
Two trucks overturned after a storm in Paderborn, Germany, Friday, May 20, 2022. A tornado swept th...
The Associated Press

Tornado hits western German city; at least 30 injured

Police in Germany say at least 30 people have been injured, 10 seriously, after a tornado struck the western city of Paderborn.
2 days ago
This undated photo provided by the Greek Culture Ministry on Friday, May 20, 2022, shows a gold Myc...
Associated Press

After string of adventures, ancient gold ring back in Greece

A more than 3,000-year-old gold signet ring that was stolen from an Aegean island in World War II, crossed the Atlantic, was bought by a Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian scientist and ended up in a Swedish museum has found its way back to Greece.
2 days ago
Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, UKRAINE - MAY 09: Ukrainian tank crew trains with infantry nearby on May 09,...
Ellie Kaufman and Barbara Starr, CNN

US likely to keep 100,000 troops in Europe for foreseeable future in face of Russian threat, US officials say

The US is expected to keep 100,000 troops stationed in Europe for the foreseeable future U.S. officials say.
2 days ago
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol as they visit t...
AAMER MADHANI and JOSH BOAK, Associated Press

Biden: SKorean chip plant a model for deeper ties to Asia

President Joe Biden says a South Korean computer chip factory that is the model for a similar plant in Texas can help deepen ties with the Indo Pacific.
2 days ago
FILE: Composer, musician, arranger and producer Evangalos Papathanassiou, better known as Vangelis,...
NICHOLAS PAPHITIS, Associated Press

Vangelis, the Greek ‘Chariots of Fire’ composer, dies at 79

The Greek electronic composer who wrote the unforgettable Academy Award-winning score for “Chariots of Fire” and music for dozens of other movies, documentaries and TV series, has died.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Make Money Online Easily...

4 Ways that You Can Make Money Online Easily in Just a Few Clicks

Here are 4 ways that you can make money online easily in no time at all! Some are as simple as just a few clicks away.
tips to winterize your home...
Bonneville Digital SLC

Tips to Winterize Your Home | The Top 5 Ways You Can Prepare for the Cold Utah Winter Ahead

Before the snow hits, here are the top 5 tips to winterize your home to prepare for the cold Utah winter this year.
Flights sent to assess Tonga damage after volcanic eruption