Volcanic Eruption in Tonga

On January 13, 2021 Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted in the South Pacific kingdom of Tonga. The underwater eruption caused tsunami waves throughout the South Pacific and has covered Tonga in toxic ash.

What Happened?

credit: NOAA

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted underwater for eight-minutes. The eruption was so violent it could be heard as “loud thunder sounds” in Fiji, a country more than 800km away. The eruption was one of the most violent ever captured on satellite, with a three-mile wide plume of ash, steam, and gas.

A Tsunami warning was issued in Tonga as well as countries as far away as the US and Canada. Tsunami waves did affect Tonga.

There is particular concern for the low-lying islands Mango and Fonoi as there was an active distress signal detected from Mango.

Assessing the Damage

Communications are usually impacted after disaster, but this was an exceptional case as all communications with the island were severed. Even satellite phones were having trouble getting through because of the ash cloud.

Assessments are crucial to determine the impact of a disaster, what people require in terms of aid, and what the local capacity to respond is.

The New Zealand and Australian navy were able to carry out surveillance to explore the extent of the damage. Getting clean water to affected people was the main priority as ash had contaminated most drinking sources.

While the tsunami did cause property damage, ShelterBox has determined that emergency shelter needs would be met by local actors and through the assistance provided by governments in the region.

As a result, ShelterBox has made the  difficult decision not to respond  in Tonga. We have limited resources and aim to respond to the most vulnerable populations around the world which would not otherwise receive aid. We have deployment criteria which we use to determine if a ShelterBox response would be appropriate. It is important to understand the level of need, and if they aid we can provide is what people actually require, and if we can provide it in a timely fashion. This ensures your generous donations get to the people who need the most, providing what they need to recover, when they need it. Thank you for your support.

You can learn more about our deployment criteria here.

credit: NOAA

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