Tonga + 4 more

Tonga: Volcanic Eruption - Flash Update # 2 (As of 17 January 2022)

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Situation Overview

No additional eruptions were recorded since yesterday’s update. However, further volcanic activity cannot be ruled out. The ash cloud has slowly moved on in a north-westerly direction. Elsewhere in the Pacific (Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands) tsunami warnings have been lifted and no serious impact has been reported so far apart from some limited flooding.

In Fiji, the government is monitoring the air quality as there is a possibility that the ash cloud will move further towards the country. The population was advised as a precaution to cover all household water tanks and stay indoors in the event of rain, due to the risk of rainfall becoming acidic.

For Tonga, the tsunami of Saturday has caused yet to be detailed damage of buildings and infrastructure. Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital, is covered with a two-centimetre-thick layer of volcanic ash and dust. However, the situation in the city is calm and stable and first clean-up efforts are being made. Nuku’alofa’s waterfront is seriously damaged with rocks and debris pushed inland by the tsunami. Overall, there appears to be significant infrastructural damage around Tongatapu, the main island. There had been no contact from the Ha’apai Group of islands with particular concern about two small low-lying islands – Mango and Fonoi. An active distress beacon had been detected from Mango. New Zealand and Australia carried out surveillance flight today and the latter reported substantial property damage at the western beaches region. In addition, the Tongan Maritime Force, the country’s navy, deployed to the Ha’apai Group of islands yesterday.

There is also extensive damage reported on the western beaches of Tongatapu with several resorts and houses destroyed and/or badly damaged. Some coastal damage is also reported on the neighboring island of ‘Eua. It is too early to fully assess the impact on remote coastal areas of Tongatapu (Tonga’s main island) or further afield, including the outer islands, but concern remains about damage in Northern Tongatapu and contamination of drinking water sources and crops, and the resulting need for safe water supplies. No significant damage was reported in regard to Fua’amotu Airport. Its management has confirmed that the clearing of ash from the runway will be completed today (17 January). No assessments yet done on Nuku’alofa and ‘Eua ports. Communication is still the most challenging single issue as internet and international phone lines are still out of order. Satellite phones are the only reliable instrument for communication with the outside but they, too, do not always work reliably. However, the that local phone systems have been restored. Power has also been restored to parts of the capital. There are no confirmed fatalities to date. However, two persons are still missing. Only some minor injuries are reported on Tongatapu and Atata, but, it should be borne in mind that assessments - particularly of the outer islands – are yet to be released.

Humanitarian Needs and Response

Due to the current challenges in communication, the situation and arising humanitarian needs could not be established fully as of now. The Tongan Government is working to assess needs and advised it would have more information by the end of today. It also announced it would have a donor briefing later today (more on this on the next update).

The Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) members are working on establishing contacts with partners on the ground and national cluster counterparts. OCHA is working on establishing lines of communication with Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) which is leading the assessments and the government response – in close cooperation with the Tonga Red Cross Society.

Today, the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) convened in Suva to discuss challenges and next steps. The PHT is comprised of United Nations Agencies, the Red Cross movement and Oxfam as representative of international Non-Government Organizations in humanitarian action in the Pacific.

The PHT and cluster partners are working to:

• Support re-establishment of adequate communication – and in particular telephone and internet services – in Tonga; there is a Government of Tonga request regarding this to the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster led by the World Food Programme (WFP);

• Provide in-country support through United Nations agencies working in Tonga, including UNFPA, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Organization for Migration, and the World Health Organization.

• Provide remote support to humanitarian partners on the ground and to government counterparts. Through the logistics cluster, led by WFP the United Nations is looking at ways to bring in relief supplies (and subsequently surge staff) – in close coordination with relevant authorities in Tonga, humanitarian partners and donor countries.

• Provide support from international non-government organizations such as the International Planned Parent Federation through its local member association for reproductive health in emergencies.

Disclaimer

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.