The scale of the colossal volcanic eruption near Tonga is best understood from space; satellite videos captured the massive eruption, which spewed enormous clouds of ash into the sky and sent tsunami waves crashing into shores from Japan to Peru. There are no reports of mass casualties in the small island nation but the damage is said to be severe and communication with the outside world has become extremely difficult.
Satellites capture scale of colossal eruption
The eruption was so massive that scientists are struggling to get any information about what the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano is doing now. There are fears that volcanic activity might continue.
The volcano is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of intense volcanic and seismic activity along the rim of the Pacific Ocean.
The eruption may be the largest in 30 years, though the scale itself makes it difficult to collect data, and any instruments in the immediate area monitoring the volcano were destroyed.
The uninhabited volcanic island was obliterated by the blast, meaning that the still-active volcano is now submerged and cannot be observed by satellites.
Volcanologists reviewing the eruption from around the world are reduced to conjecture based on the available evidence to predict what might happen next.
There has not been any sign of another major eruption, though experts say that it isn’t unlikely that smaller eruptions could occur in the coming weeks or months.
1.14.2022: (correction on date) Large volcanic eruption near Tonga (Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano) today as seen from outer space. Shown on visible imagery using the Himawari satellite. #hiwx #tsunami #earthquake pic.twitter.com/Y18W7wvXl9
— NWSHonolulu (@NWSHonolulu) January 15, 2022
Communication cut off
For Tonga the eruption does not appear to have been as devastating as initially feared, though details remain unclear given that communication between the outside world and the island kingdom has been largely cut off.
Most inhabitants are believed to have made it to safety and the Red Cross has stated that the damage was not as bad as it might have been.
Still, observation flights from Australia and New Zealand have reported signs of large-scale devastation to buildings and infrastructure. Most of the population, including the king, fled to higher ground before the tsunami arrived.
Tongans abroad are waiting anxiously for communication to be restored so that they can contact friends and family, who they currently have little chance of reaching.
Diplomats from the small country have been hesitant about accepting international aid. The country currently has no cases of Covid and there is some concern that an influx of aid workers could spark an outbreak at the worst possible time.
That decision will ultimately depend on assessments of damage caused by the eruption and tsunami which emerge once communications can be fully restored.