WELLINGTON, New Zealand ( Associated Press) – The New Zealand military was able to send a surveillance flight to Tonga on Monday morning to assess the damage caused by a massive volcanic eruption.
A huge ash cloud prevented the military from launching any earlier flights to the Pacific island nation.
The people of Tonga described their country as the sight of the moon as they began cleaning work from tsunami waves and ash fall from the eruption. Communications with the island nation remained limited after internet was snapped shortly after the blast on Saturday evening.
There were no reports of injuries or deaths, although concerns remained for the fate of people on some small islands near the volcano.
Meanwhile, scientists said they did not think the eruption would have a significant impact on Earth’s climate.
Giant volcanic eruptions can sometimes cause global cooling as sulfur dioxide is pumped into the stratosphere. But in the case of the Tonga eruption, initial satellite measurements indicated that the amount of sulfur dioxide released would only have a small effect of cooling the 0.01 Celsius (0.02 Fahrenheit) global average, said Rutgers University professor Alan Roecock.
satellite image showed spectacular underwater explosion Saturday evening, with plumes of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom over South Pacific waters.
According to the National Weather Service, a sonic boom can be heard as far away as Alaska and send pressure shocks around the planet twice that, causing a change in atmospheric pressure. Large waves were detected as far as the Caribbean due to the pressure change produced by the eruption.
In Tonga, it caused tsunami waves to crash ashore and people fled to higher ground.
With internet and phone lines shut, friends and family members around the world were anxiously trying to get in touch.
The government website and other official sources remained without updates on Sunday afternoon.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday that there were no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, but cautioned that officials had not yet contacted some coastal areas and small islands.
“Communication with Tonga remains very limited. And I know it is causing a great amount of concern to the Tongan community here,” Ardern said.
It said boats and shops along the Tongan coast had suffered extensive damage. The capital, Nuku’alofa, was covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, Ardern said, contaminating water supplies and making fresh water a vital necessity.
Aid agencies said thick ash and smoke have prompted officials to ask people to wear masks and drink bottled water.
in a video Posted on Facebook, Nightingale Filihia was sheltering at her family home from a rain of volcanic ash and tiny bits of rock that had turned the sky pitch black.
“It is really bad. They told us to stay indoors and cover our doors and windows because it is dangerous,” she said. “I feel sorry for the people. When the explosion happened, everyone was shocked. We ran home.” People were seen walking outside the house with umbrellas for safety.
Ardern said New Zealand was unable to send a surveillance flight over Tonga on Sunday because the ash cloud was 63,000 feet (19,000 m) high, but he was expected to try again on Monday, followed by supply planes and naval ships. Of.
A complicating factor for any international aid effort is that Tonga has so far managed to avoid any outbreaks of COVID-19. Ardern said New Zealand military personnel are fully vaccinated and prepared to follow any protocols established by Tonga.
Dave Snyder, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, said it was very unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect the entire ocean basin, and the spectacle was both “humbling and scary.”
Tsunami waves damaged boats as far as New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California, but there was no widespread damage. In the Lambayeque region of northern Peru, two women drowned after being swept away in “unusual waves” following the explosion, officials said.
Earlier tsunami advisories were issued for Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and the Pacific coast of the US. The US Geological Survey estimated the eruption to be the equivalent of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake. Scientists said tsunamis generated by volcanoes rather than earthquakes are relatively rare.
Rachel Afeki-Taumoepue, chair of the New Zealand Tonga Business Council, said she expected the relatively low level of tsunami waves to have allowed most people to find safety, although she was concerned about those living on the islands closest to the volcano. She was She said she was yet to contact her friends and family in Tonga.
“We are praying that the damage is just to the infrastructure and people were able to get to the higher ground,” she said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter that he is “deeply concerned for the people of Tonga as they recover from the aftermath of the volcanic eruption and tsunami. The United States stands ready to provide assistance to our Pacific neighbors.”
Tonga gets internet from Suva, Fiji via an undersea cable. Doug Madori, director of internet analysis for network intelligence firm Kentik, said all internet connectivity with Tonga was lost at around 6:40 p.m. local time on Saturday.
On Tonga, which is home to some 105,000 people, videos posted on social media showed large waves washing away coastal areas and moving around homes, a church and other buildings. One Twitter user has been identified as Dr. Faka’ilotonga Toumoflaus Video posted showing waves crashing on shore,
“Can actually hear the volcanic eruption, sounds very violent,” he wrote in a later post: “Rain ash and small pebbles, the sky is dark.”
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Haapai volcano, about 64 kilometers (40 mi) north of Nuku’alofa, was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions. In late 2014 and early 2015, eruptions created a small new island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific Islands for several days.
The island was observed in recent days by Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC after a new volcanic eruption began in late December. Satellite images showed how large the area was formed by the volcano, creating a rising island off Tonga.
“The island’s surface area has expanded by about 45% due to ash,” Planet Labs said a few days before the latest activity.
Experts said it was too early to tell how much ash was produced by the eruption because the volcanic cloud contained vapor as a result of ocean water interacting with hot magma.
Michelle Combs, a scientist at the US Geological Survey’s Alaska Volcano Observatory, said the eruption in shallow water may be similar to a series of eruptions between 2016 and 2017 that shaped Bogoslof Island, north of the Aleutian Islands.
“When it erupts in shallow ocean water, the interaction between the hot magma and ocean water adds additional energy to the eruption and creates taller and larger ash clouds,” Combs said.
Scott Bachmeier, a research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the ash cloud was blowing west and as a precaution, planes would be diverted around its perimeter.