Updated Jan 17, 2022 - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

Satellite image of Tonga explosion
This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand, which were later lifted.

  • Satellite images of the eruption resembled a nuclear explosion with shockwaves rippling out in all directions, per Axios' Andrew Freedman.

The big picture: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press briefing Sunday there were no immediate official reports of deaths or injuries.

  • While power was slowly being restored to parts of the capital Nuku'alofa and mobile phones were beginning to work again, communication lines to other parts of Tonga was limited as power lines remained cut, Arden noted.
  • It could take up to two weeks to fix an undersea cable damaged in the disaster, the cable operator told the New Zealand Herald on Sunday.
  • The extent of the explosion's damage remained unknown as the Australian and New Zealand defense forces deployed surveillance aircraft to the region. But parts of Tonga look "like a moonscape" due to the thick coating of volcanic ash, the BBC reports.
  • The ash has also contaminated some fresh water sources. "A clear indication that has come from Tonga is a need for water,” Arden said.

Threat level: The tsunami had a "significant impact" on Nuku'alofa, where "boats and large boulders washed ashore," Arden said.

  • "Shops along the coast have been damaged and a significant cleanup will be needed," she said.
  • "Nuku'alofa is covered in thick foam of volcanic dust but otherwise conditions are calm and stable."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of the underwater cable and the Australian and New Zealand defence forces' surveillance aircraft deployment.

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