HomeNewsFirst Images of Tonga Covered in Ash After Volcano Eruption

First Images of Tonga Covered in Ash After Volcano Eruption

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by Dana Stephenson//Getty Images)

It’s been four days since the biggest volcano eruption in 30 years and rescue workers are getting their first images of the destruction on the tiny island nation of Tonga. The volcano blanketed the archipelago in toxic ash, which has hindered rescue efforts. The New Zealand Defense Force flew over the island today and released the photos to the public.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded on Saturday, causing a blast large enough that satellites recorded it from space. It sent tsunamis racing across the Pacific Ocean. People in North Carolina, on the other side of the planet, felt the shock wave.

The volcano killed at least 5 people — three in Tonga and two more in Peru. That number will likely rise when rescuers can speak with the island residents. The eruption damaged an underwater cable that allowed international calls, and toxic ash kept airplanes from being able to survey the damage.

Tuesday’s flyover was the first chance rescue workers got a birds’-eye-view of the devastation.

Two New Zealand ships will deliver much-needed water, food, and supplies to the island. Though it will take three days for the ships to reach Tonga. Until then, residents will have to survive with what they have.

“Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage, and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 liters, and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant,” New Zealand’s country’s minister of defense Peeni Henare said in a statement to CNN.

More than 100,00 people live in Tonga, most on the capital island, Save the Children Fiji CEO, Shairana Ali told CNN. The volcano damaged at least 100 homes and leveled 50 others.

What’s Next for Tonga after Volcano Eruption?

Officials from Australia, New Zealand, and the United Nations have scrambled to mount a rescue effort after the volcano eruption. But residual eruptions and ash have kept rescuers at bay.

Officials on the island’s capital of Nuku’alofa worked to clear the two inches of ash that covered the runway of the airport there. Australia has a C-130 plane loaded with supplies, but it can’t land until they clear the runway.

Though supplies reaching the island are only the first step. Experts warn there are still serious threats lurking on the horizon like tsunamis. Those could erode the shorelines and disrupt rescue efforts. Then there’s the acid rain.

The volcano has been releasing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere since Saturday. Those two gases create the basis for acid rain, which could destroy the crops on the island. Residents grow taro, corn, bananas, and garden vegetables there, and they could all get damaged.

Luckily, the volcanic plume is spreading away from the island, reports said. That’s good for Tonga, but bad news for any nation in its way.