Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Ash hinders Tonga response following eruption felt around the world

The tsunami threat around the Pacific from a huge undersea volcanic eruption receded on Sunday, but a massive ash cloud covering the tiny island nation of Tonga prevented surveillance flights from New Zealand from assessing the extent of damage, reports Aljazeera. Satellite images showed the spectacular eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano that took place on Saturday with a plume of ash, steam, and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue Pacific waters. A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska. In Tonga, it sent tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground. The eruption cut the internet to Tonga, leaving friends and family members around the world anxiously trying to get in touch to figure out if there were any injuries. Even government websites and other official sources remained without updates on Sunday afternoon. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there had not yet been any official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, but cautioned that authorities had not 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, about 64 km south of the volcano, was covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, Ardern said, contaminating water supplies and making freshwater a vital need. Aid agencies said thick ash and smoke had prompted authorities to ask people to wear masks and drink bottled water. Ardern said New Zealand was unable to send a surveillance flight over Tonga on Sunday because the ash cloud was 19 km high. But efforts will continue on Monday, followed by supply planes and navy ships. One complicating factor in 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 extremely unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect an entire ocean basin, and the spectacle was both “humbling and scary”. Robin George Andrews, a science journalist, a volcanologist and author of Super Volcanoes, told Al Jazeera from London that “it was the most energetic [volcanic] explosions in the entire 21st century. Unfortunately, there was this giant explosion which scientists think is a one-in-a-1,000-year event for this sort of volcano. It takes about 1,000 years to fully recharge,” he said. “So it just happened to be around that point where it unleashed a vast amount of magma in a very explosive way. That’s what created the explosion where it pushed the atmosphere out of the way … The shockwave has gone around the entire world.” 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.

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