In first official statement on Saturday’s volcanic eruption and tsunami, government confirms at least three dead.
The Tonga government says the Pacific island nation is facing an “unprecedented disaster” after a massive volcanic eruption triggered a tsunami and blanketed parts of the country of 100,000 people in thick volcanic ash.
In its first statement since the undersea volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai erupted on Saturday, the prime minister’s office late on Tuesday confirmed the deaths of at least three people, including a British woman.
“As a result of the eruption, a volcanic mushroom plume was released reaching the stratosphere and extending radially covering all Tonga Island, generating tsunami waves rising up to 15 metres (49 feet), hitting the west coasts of Tongatapu Islands, ‘Eua and Ha’apai Islands,” the statement said.
“Due to the severity of the damage observed”, the government said additional rescue teams had been sent to Mango, Fonoifua and Nomuka islands. All houses on Mango – where a distress signal had been detected – had been destroyed and only two remained standing on Fonoifua, while there was extensive damage on Nomuka, it said.
Tongan navy ships were being sent to affected islands with urgent supplies of water and food, while evacuation efforts from the worst-hit areas were also under way.
The eruption was the largest since Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, with the cataclysmic bang heard in Fiji more than 750km (466 miles) away.
Two ships from the New Zealand navy, carrying rescue teams and equipment and loaded with supplies, are already on their way to Tonga.
Attempts to respond to the disaster are being hampered by communication problems after the eruption severed the islands’ undersea cable, and by thick ash covering the runway on the country’s main airport.