Tonga tsunami: 'One of the worst Pacific volcano eruptions in years'
The Red Cross has been responding to the Tonga tsunami, which has badly affected all 36 of its Pacific islands after the volcanic eruption on Saturday, 15 January 2022.
Last updated 4 August 2023
After repeated flare-ups, the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano finally erupted in the early hours of Saturday, 15 January.
The underwater blast lasted eight minutes, sending ash 60,000 feet into the sky in a 5km plume.
The impact was felt as far away as Peru, with ‘violent’ waves reaching 6,200 miles across the Pacific, spilling of oil barrels into Peruvian waters.
Just 64km south of the volcano, the small Pacific Island country of Tonga was slammed by a tsunami wave of 1.2 metres.
The impact immediately severed communication lines, cutting off the islands from the rest of the world.
As a result, the true extent of the damage remains unknown. But overhead images show the islands blanketed in layers of volcanic ash. In coastal areas, trees were ripped down by the waves and buildings torn apart.
Early reports from the Tongan government say that 84% of the population has been directly affected (84,000 people) and 99% of people have been impacted in some way.
Two islands have been evacuated due to the total destruction of all homes.
It has been reported that five people have lost their lives.
'Like nothing we've seen in our lifetimes'
In the crucial hours after the explosion, dust and ash hampered relief efforts.
But from the moment the tsunami alert was triggered, the Tonga Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), has been working around the clock to reach people.
Sione Taumoefolau, Secretary General of Tonga Red Cross, said:
“This disaster has shaken the people of Tonga like nothing we have seen in our lifetime.
“There is an urgent need for people to have access to safe water sources in the days and weeks to come. Ash has settled in water tanks- requiring time to settle and be treated before use. It has also smothered much of the country, including houses and crops.
It is critical to clean this ash away, so it doesn't run into water supplies when the next rain comes.
Entire villages washed away
As well as contaminating food and drinking water, the ferocious tsunami waves also destroyed entire homes and villages. Many communities have been left without shelter.
"People have lost everything. We need to provide immediate support and shelter – then turn our attention to the longer term. It will be a tough time, but we will recover,” Sione continues.
Katie Greenwood, IFRC’s Pacific Head of Delegation, says:
"While the damage to some of the islands is truly devastating, it is heartening to see Red Cross and governments from around the world providing assistance to the hard-hit people of Tonga.
"A well-coordinated humanitarian response that brings together governments and international organisations to support local agencies like Tonga Red Cross is crucial in the Pacific. These partnerships are critical for effective delivery of immediate relief and longer-term support."
Finding family and friends in Tonga
With communication lines damaged, people around the world are only just beginning to check on the welfare of family and friends in Tonga.
“The Tonga Red Cross is working with our Movement partner, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to restore family links,” Katie says.
“This will help people from all over the world try and find out if their family and friends in Tonga are safe and well.”
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