The Tonga tsunami saw its capital completely flooded and sent tidal waves across its Pacific neighbours, New Zealand, Japan and the US pacific coast. 

An underwater volcano in the South Pacific erupted on January 15 and 16, causing tsunamis to hit the countries of Tonga, Hawaii, and Japan, where entire towns were flooded in the immediate aftermath. 

Located about 30 km southeast of Tonga’s Fonuafo’ou island, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano eruption caused a severe tsunami towards the Pacific Island, with a plume of ash, steam and gas can be seen rising above the region. Satellite imagery has also shown the uninhabited islands of Nuku and Tau to have completely eroded as a result. 

Tsunami warnings were also issued in Japan, Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast. The US Geological Survey estimated the eruption caused the equivalent of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake, while scientists have noted that tsunamis generated by volcanoes instead of earthquakes are relatively rare.

Tonga, which is home to about 105,000 people, saw roads and properties flooded from the tsunami, but there have been no reports of fatalities or injuries, according to New Zealand Jacinda Ardern. 

“Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust but otherwise conditions are calm and stable,” Ardern said in a press conference on January 16. She added that  “communication with Tonga remains very limited”, as the eruption affected the island’s main undersea communications cable, cutting off power and internet. 

As of Sunday, New Zealand has yet to send any military surveillance flight over Tonga due to the ash cloud, which rose up to 63,000 feet (19,000 meters) high, but aims to send supply planes as well as navy ships once the volcanic dust clears up.

Scientists warn that Tonga’s largest island of Tongatapu could be blanketed in volcanic ash in the coming days. The main concern for residents is water supplies as the ash and dust continues to contaminate the waters; people are encouraged to wear masks and drink bottled water in the meantime. 

This was not the first time the region experienced a volcanic eruption in recent years; volcanic events in late 2014 and early 2015 created a small new island, which disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days. Tonga has also been heavily impacted by severe cyclones in 2020 and 2018. 

You might also like: The Climate Crisis Could Increase Volcano Eruptions

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons