The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which has killed at least three people and sent tsunami waves across the Pacific.
A large eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha-apai underwater volcano in the evening of 15 January (at 17:26 local time) caused a tsunami and ash fall in Tonga (total pop. 105,000 people).
The volcanic eruption has continued throughout the day with satellite imagery indicating a 5km wide plume of ash, steam and gas rising into the air 20km above the volcano. The ash plume was observed moving northeast over the islands of Ha’apai and is currently proceeding in a westerly direction away.
The eruption was one of the biggest in Tonga in the past 30 years. During the initial eight-minutes, it was so violent it could be heard as “loud thunder sounds” in Fiji, more than 800km away. No additional eruptions were recorded since yesterday’s update. However, further volcanic activity cannot be ruled out.
For Tonga, the tsunami of Saturday has caused yet to be detailed damage of buildings and infrastructure. Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital, is covered with a two-centimetre-thick layer of volcanic ash and dust. However, the situation in the city is calm and stable and first clean-up efforts are being made.
On 19 January, the Government of Tonga issued a State of Emergency. To date, there are three confirmed fatalities: one British national; a female from Mango Island; and a male from Nomuka Island.