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Tonga islands devastated by eruption, tsunami

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Tonga islands devastated by eruption, tsunami
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Image Credit: @News1NZ/Twitter

Sydney: The South Pacific island nation of Tonga has suffered "catastrophic" damage from the tsunami that followed the eruption of underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, which sits a little over 60 km from Tonga's national capital Nuku'Alofa. The eruption destroyed the ocean cable that allows communication with the islands, hindering rescue efforts.

Waves estimated at 5-10 m high devastated lower lying islands and have washed away homes according to New Zealand, whose high commission is in touch with security officials in Tonga according to a Reuters report. With ash still blanketing the area and communications cut off, it is difficult to ascertain the true extent of the damage, officials said. At least 2 have been killed so far.

Tonga's main airport, Fua'amotu International Airport, was not damaged in Saturday's eruption and tsunami but heavy ashfall is preventing full operations, hampering international relief efforts said Australia's Minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja.

The United Nations said a distress signal was detected in an isolated, low-lying Ha'apai islands group, adding it had particular concerns about Fonoi and Mango islands. According to the Tonga government, 36 people live on Mango and 69 on Fonoi. The Ha'apai islands, part of the 176 islands that make up Tonga, were hardest hit by the tsunami.

The Red Cross said it was mobilising its network to respond to what it called the worst volcanic eruption the Pacific has experienced in decades. Alexander Matheou, the Red Cross' Asia Pacific director, said water purification to remove ash contamination, providing shelter and reuniting families were the priorities, Reuters reported.

Scientists are also concerned about the environemental impact as the volcano is still spewing sulphur dioxide and other gases into the air which could heighten chances of acid rain that will kill coral reefs and affect ocean life around the islands.

"Acid rain causes widespread crop damage, and could ruin Tongan staples like taro, corn, bananas and garden vegetables. "Depending on how long the eruptions last, food security could be compromised," said volcanologist Shane Cronin at the University of Auckland to Reuters.

Two people in Peru drowned due to high waves caused by the eruption in Tonga and evacuations were made in Japan after the alert was issued. The blast was powerful enough to be heard in New Zealand, 2300 miles away.

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TAGS:Natural disaster Volcanic eruption Tsunami Tonga New Zealand 
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