May 24, 2022

Tonga Islands: These 10 impressive images before / after the underwater eruption

Since the powerful eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano on January 15 and the resulting tsunami in the Pacific, the Tonga Islands have had to deal with considerable damage and still remain cut off from the world.

Published on January 18 by Maxar Technologies and Planet Labs PBC, satellite images of Tonga show the extent of the disaster that has affected the Tongan archipelago.

First, the two satellite photographs below show the volcanic island of Tonga before and after the devastating eruption. In the photo on the left taken on January 6, 2022, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai releases ash in a thick plume of smoke. As for the photo on the right, it is the same place photographed on January 18, three days after most of the island on which the volcano was located was destroyed by the violent eruptive phenomenon. Only two small islands remain that emerge in the middle of a vast expanse of water. “What we saw above the water, and which is destroyed now, was only the tip of the volcano that had grown on the edge of the huge underwater volcano,” explained to AFP Heather Handley, Australian volcanologist.

tonga_combo1_880_495_61e6c0f03c4db.jpg

© 2022 Maxar Technologies / AP

This massive volcanic eruption, which was the largest recorded in decades, created a huge mushroom of smoke and rocks and ash 30 km high and immediately triggered a tsunami. Waves of 1.2 m swept over Nuku’alofa, the capital of the archipelago, located about 65 km from the volcano. Moreover, the country’s authorities announced on January 18 two deaths, including that of a 50-year-old Briton, swept away by the tidal wave.

Falling from the sky, ash and volcanic dust covered the island of Tongotapu on which Nuku’alofa is located by nearly two centimeters. On the left is an image of a residential area in the Tongan capital dated December 29, 2021 and after the eruption, the image on the right shows this same area covered in ash, on January 18, 2022. All vegetation has passed from green to gray under the effect of volcanic fallout. In some areas of the capital, electricity has been restored as well as the local telephone network. But international phone lines and internet connection were still down due to a broken undersea cable connected to the global network.

tonga_combo4_880_495_61e6c702b7a3a.jpg

© 2022 Maxar Technologies / AP

These two photos of the main port of Nuku’alofa show us the before and after, the powerful eruption of the Tongan volcano. On the left, the port is photographed on December 29, 2021 and on the right, it was covered by volcanic ash on January 18, 2022.

tonga_combo5_880_495_61e6d68b63356.jpg

© 2022 Maxar Technologies / AP

Located at the northeast end of the island of Tongatapu, the coastal village of Niutoua also bears the scars of the disaster. On the left, the photo dated January 9, 2022 represents it surrounded by green nature with its small spaced houses. On the right, the image taken on January 17, 2022 of Niutoua reveals an unrecognizable town as if suffocated under the dust of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai. The volcanic ashes have buried the plantations and the crops and the houses seem to have disappeared under the dust.tonga_combo3_880_495_61e6cc2e7ddd1.jpg

© Planet Labs PBC / AP

It’s the same desolate scene at the other end of Tongatapu on the northwest coast, at Kanokupolu, a village famous for its beautiful beaches and nearby whales. Below, the satellite images show us this small village photographed on January 14 in the photo on the left then on January 16, a day after the eruption, on the one on the right, the village has almost been erased under the debris of the volcano and the area seems to have been completely devastated.tongo_combo2_880_495_61e6d39872924.jpg

© Planet Labs PBC / AP

A hundred homes were damaged, including 50 destroyed on Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga. Many countries such as Australia, New Zealand and France stand ready to come to the aid of this country of 100,000 inhabitants and to meet the most urgent needs of the population.

But the damage of this major eruptive episode is not limited to the Tongan archipelago. The tsunami had effects as far away as the American, Japanese and Peruvian shores. In Peru, it even claimed two victims who drowned on January 15 in strong waves generated by the tsunami. High waves also caused an oil spill in the province of Callao, not far from Lima.