Tonga confirms death toll as pictures give glimpse of volcano damage

The giant eruption sent shockwaves around the globe. Credit: Maxar Technologies

The government of Tonga has confirmed three people have died so far following the volcanic eruption that is being described as an “unprecedented disaster.”

A “number of injuries” have been reported, according the government’s first statement since the eruption, while water supplies have been “seriously affected” by volcanic ash.

Among the dead is a British national Angela Glover, 50, a 65-year-old woman from Mango island and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka Island.

“Communications both international and domestic were severed due to damage sustained by the submarine cable from the eruptions and there was no further communication with the outer islands until the morning of Monday, 17 January,” the government statement adds.

A huge cloud of ash rose above the Pacific island nation

Amid the communication issues, information on the full impact had been scarce. However, the first pictures have started to appear - thanks to surveillance flights to Tonga sent by Australia and New Zealand.

The company that owns the single underwater fiber-optic cable that connects the island nation to the rest of the world said it likely was severed in the eruption and repairs could take weeks.The loss of the cable leaves most Tongans unable to use the internet or make phone calls abroad.

A view of Tonga from above. Credit: New Zealand Defence Force

Those that have managed to get messages out described their country as looking like a moonscape as they began cleaning up from the tsunami waves and volcanic ash fall.

The few bits of information that have been able to reach the wider world tell of the capital, Nuku’alofa, covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, contaminating water supplies and making fresh water a vital need.

The explosion could be seen from space Credit: AP

Satellite images showed the spectacular undersea eruption Saturday evening, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific waters.

A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska and sent pressure shockwaves around the planet twice.

The landscape in Tonga has been blackened by the eruption. Credit: Maxar Technologies

Large waves were detected as far away as the Caribbean due to pressure changes generated by the eruption.

The eruption led to the US and Japan, which lie thousands of miles from the volcano to warn people to stay away from the shore.

The Santa Cruz beach in California was flooded after the explosion Credit: AP

Several beaches in California were flooded as a result of the eruption.

The waves caused an oil spill on the Peruvian coast, but authorities said Monday the spill was controlled within hours and there's an ongoing process to clean the area.

The government didn't say how many gallons were spilled only that local and federal authorities were working to clean the coast.

Oil from a spill covers the shore at Cavero beach in Ventanilla, Callao, Peru. Credit: AP

Australia, New Zealand and several international aid agencies have pledged to send supplies to Tonga as soon as possible.

One complicating factor to any international aid effort is that Tonga has so far managed to avoid any outbreaks of Covid-19.