A tsunami threat around the Pacific from a massive underwater volcanic eruption began to ease on Sunday, but a massive ash cloud covering the small island nation of Tonga forced New Zealand to assess the extent of the damage. Surveillance flights stopped.
Satellite images showed Saturday evening’s spectacular eruption, with a mushroom-like layer of ash, steam and gas rising above blue Pacific waters. A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska.
In Tonga it caused a tsunami to crash on the shore and people fled to higher ground. The explosion cut the internet to Tonga, leaving friends and family members around the world eager to contact to see if any were hurt. Even the government website and other official sources remained without updates on Sunday afternoon.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there were no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga so far, but cautioned that officials had not yet contacted some coastal areas and small islands.
“Communication with Tonga remains very limited. And I know it is causing a great amount of concern to the Tongan community here,” Ardern said. It said boats and shops along the Tongan coast had suffered extensive damage. The capital, Nuku’alofa, was covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, Ardern said, contaminating water supplies and making fresh water a vital necessity.
Aid agencies said thick ash and smoke have prompted officials to ask people to wear masks and drink bottled water. Ardern said New Zealand was unable to send a surveillance flight over Tonga on Sunday because the ash cloud was 63,000 feet (19,000 m) high, but he was expected to try again on Monday, followed by supply planes and naval ships. Of. The tsunami damaged boats as far as New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California, but there was no widespread damage.
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