Child rights and humanitarian organisation Plan International is concerned for the safety and welfare of communities across the Pacific flooded by a tsunami caused by an undersea volcano that erupted on Saturday.
Located about 65km north of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, the 1.8km-high, 20km-wide Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted at 5:30pm local time on January 15. Massive plumes of gas, ash and smoke shot up 20km into the sky and the eruption could be heard as far away as New Zealand.
As huge waves rushed over the island nation and floods hit coastal areas, people were filmed running for higher ground. Tidal surges were felt by small Pacific neighbours – with reports of a number of Fijian villages being inundated and families evacuated – as well as New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
The Tongan Navy has reported major damage in the Ha’apai Islands, with waves up to 10m-high crashing over the islands and reaching 500m inland.
One death and one injury have been reported in Tonga.
However with the 872 kilometre fibre-optic cable connecting Tonga to the outside world now damaged, communications have been severed or severely limited.
Satellite images show the country completely enveloped in dark volcanic ash, and scientists have warned that families across the main island are now at risk of exposure to dangerous dust and ash particles in the air and water.
Plan International does not have an existing office or program in Tonga, however teams from Fiji and throughout the region are ready to respond. All Plan International staff have been accounted for and are safe.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and ready to respond,” said Christine Deo-Reddy, Plan International Pacific Program Director.
“In Fiji, staff, local partners, and their families living in low lying areas or near shorelines were advised to evacuate to higher grounds. On a separate note, we are also mindful of the third wave of COVID-19 currently impacting Fiji that further complicates relief efforts. Nonetheless, safety measures are in place to mitigate risk of Plan staff and partners contracting the virus.
“With reports of up to 2cm of ash coating the ground in parts of Tonga, the immediate concerns are air and water safety. The Government of Tonga is advising the public to wear masks and use bottled water for now,” she said.
Interviews available with Josefa Lalabalavu, Pacific disaster response manager via media advisor Claire Knox at Plan international Australia: 0452 326 549/ [email protected]