For the third time in four days, a massive underwater volcano erupted on a tiny Pacific Island near Australia. The volcano outside of the island nation of Hunga Tonga volcano erupted Sunday night and caused tsunami warnings as far away as Alaska.
So far, there are no reported casualties from Sunday’s eruption. Though, officials on Hunga Tonga are still assessing the damage.
The volcano there erupted on Saturday, sending ash more than 10 miles into the atmosphere. People as far as the Caribbean felt the shock wave and equipment in Alaska heard the sonic boom. It was the biggest eruption on the planet in more than 30 years, experts believe.
“The large and explosive lateral spread of the eruption suggests that it was probably the biggest one since about the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo,” volcanologist Shane Cronin said.
The death toll from it is unclear. Rescue workers were still reaching the island. Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance flights to detail the damage, but the giant ash plume that the volcano belched is disrupting those efforts.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the tsunami that hit Hunga Tonga caused a “significant impact” on the nation’s capital of Nuku’alofa. “Shops along the coast have been damaged and a significant cleanup will be needed,” she said.
Experts said they couldn’t rule out more volcano eruptions near Hunga Tonga in the coming days. They say residents to prepare for others, Reuters said.
Two men in Peru drowned Saturday because of the volcano eruption. It also injured two American fishermen. Japan told more than 200,000 people in eight different locations to evacuate. The tsunami that hit the country capsized 10 boats and disrupted travel for thousands of people.
COVID Interferring with Volcano Relief, Ash a Major Concern
COVID-19 is making rescue efforts more difficult. Hunga Tonga has no cases of the virus and officials don’t want rescuers to bring it with them. Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, said that would just cause more problems later.
“We don’t want to bring in another wave — a tsunami of COVID-19,” Tu’ihalangingie told Reuters.
He said the country would need to quarantine any relief items sent to the island. Officials wouldn’t allow foreign aid workers off of boats either. The country will set up a public fund soon, he said. Leaders worry that private fundraisers could confuse the issue and increase the risk of scammers.
Experts restored telephone service to the nation’s 105,000 residents on Monday. Now they’ll try to repair international communication. The volcano eruption damaged an underwater cable, Reuters said, that could take weeks to fix. Australia and New Zealand are helping with satellite calls.
They’ll also need to find potable water. Volcanic ash has turned much of the drinking water toxic and poses serious health risks to people and animals.