Tonga battered by tsunami after earth-shaking undersea eruption


Photo courtesy of Tonga Geological Services

   After a massive underwater volcano eruption in the South Pacific set off a series of tsunamis ranging from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans and even the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, the small archipelago nation of Tonga has been left in ruins and cut off from the rest of the world.

   The eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, which is located just 350 miles from Tonga’s capital of Nuku’alofa, was 500 times more powerful than a nuclear bomb. Not only could the blast be seen from space, it was also felt as far away as Alaska. The eruption even destroyed a small, uninhabited island which had been formed by another eruption in 2015.

   The impact of this eruption and the resulting tsunami have devastated the island nation of Tonga. Four-foot waves were reported in the capital with reports of higher waves elsewhere, which left just two houses standing on the small island of Fonoifua and none on Mango, an island of just 30 inhabitants. Significant property damage was also reported on the main island of Tongatapu, with a number of coastal resorts and dwellings left damaged or destroyed by the waves. Just three deaths have been reported as a result of the tsunami. This minimal death toll can be attributed to the islands’ familiarity with natural disasters and preparation efforts such as tsunami drills.

   The eruption and subsequent tsunami have also led to another significant problem: a lack of communication with the rest of the world. Tonga, being a small island nation in the South Pacific, had relied on a single fiber-optic cable in order to maintain both phone and internet service for its population of 100,000 people. When the cord was cut by forces from the eruption, the country completely lost both means of communication.. Although telephone links between Tonga and the rest of the world were restored shortly after the eruption, internet service will take another month to return to the islands. This has compounded an already serious catastrophe by preventing communication with the island and slowing media response. According to a Tongan government statement, however, “the two communications operators are working on satellite options to restore some services including the internet.”