Island Community Left Covered in Ash After Underwater Volcanic Eruption


An aerial view of the Tonga volcano erupting

Gabriela Danger, Opinion Editor

Last Saturday, you might have noticed some strange weather warnings around Florida. In Miami, nothing too out of the ordinary was happening. It was the typical thunderstorm before a few nice, cool days.

However, in other parts of the world, the weather was far more bizarre. In Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom near New Zealand, an underwater volcano that has been brewing for about 30 years finally erupted, sending a massive plume of dirt, ash, and smoke up into the atmosphere, and creating enormous waves. These waves went on to create a tsunami that would devastate Peru.

But the more immediate consequences of the eruption hit Tonga. Its central Ha’apai islands are all covered in a thick, choking layer of ash. Such a disaster probably doesn’t seem like much to us, but over there, they are now suffering from massive amounts of water and food contamination due to the ashes.

Some of the community’s smaller islands have been completely cut off because of the abundance of ash in the area. Alexander Matheou, the director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, expressed that “[They] are concerned especially for those low-lying islands close to the eruption itself.” Delivering aid to them has been especially difficult, with airports blocked off and runways covered in debris and ashes.

Currently, New Zealand has commented saying it will send some of its navy ships full of aid to help the small nation. However, for them to reach Tonga, it will take three days.

New Zealand’s minister of defense, Peeni Henare, clarified in one statement, “Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 liters, and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant.” (The Aotearoa is the name of one of the ships at sea going to provide help to Tonga.)

Because of the eruption, many homes have been destroyed and many of the island nation’s inhabitants are left with rubble, and no place to stay. One of the main reasons this event is so peculiar is because there is little to no communication, as underwater cables connecting Tonga to other places are damaged, and the ash in the atmosphere blocks satellite signals.

Tsunamis around the area have already killed at least three people with their deadly waves. According to CNN, the eruption of the volcano— the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano— on January 15th was the biggest volcanic event since the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. Many of Tonga’s smaller islands had almost all the homes on them destroyed, although no exact research has surfaced yet, as it was so recent.

As of right now, many areas are in a tsunami risk warning. Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Japan, Australia, and Canada along with the US’s west coasts being some of them.

Help will likely be along soon to help Tonga through this crisis.

For more information on the eruption, read this CNN article.