Freak volcano waves cause horror event

As new aerial images of the volcano that exploded in Tonga reveal fresh insight, freak waves have caused drama on the other side of the ocean.

Peruvian authorities sealed off three beaches Monday after they were hit by an oil spill blamed on freak waves caused by the volcanic eruption in Tonga.

The Pampilla Refinery, part of the Spanish company Repsol, said there had been a “limited spill” of oil off the coast of Callao and Ventanilla districts near Lima Saturday due to the violent waves produced by the eruption on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

It said the spill occurred during offloading from a tanker.

It comes as the volcano that exploded on the Pacific island nation of Tonga has almost disappeared from view, new images revealed Tuesday, with swathes of the island nation smothered in grey ash and dust or damaged by a tsunami.

The government on Tonga overnight advised the public to remain indoors, use masks if going out and to drink bottled water due to the ashfall.

Around 2 cm of ash and dust has fallen on Tonga’s main island Tongatapu, raising concerns of air pollution and potential contamination of food & water supplies.

In Peru, the National Emergency Operations Center said in a statement that the spill had been brought under control.

Environment Minister Ruben Ramirez said the accident had affected a three-kilometer stretch along three beaches.

“There is great damage to biodiversity, and it could even impact human health,” he said.

“And so it has been ordered that the area is cut off for all kinds of activity,” Ramirez told reporters.

Tonga has been virtually cut off from the rest of the world since Saturday’s volcanic blast — one of the largest recorded in decades.

The volcano erupted 30 kilometres into the air and deposited ash, gas and acid rain across a large area of the Pacific.

Three days after the eruption, the outside world is still scrambling to understand the scale of the disaster, using patchy satellite phone connections, surveillance flights and satellite images.

New Zealand said two people have been confirmed killed, citing Tonga police on the island. One of them is a British woman. Her family say the body was found after she was swept away by the tsunami.

The World Health Organisation on Tuesday night released initial reports of a third death, along with approximately 100 houses damaged and 50 “completely destroyed” on the main island of Tongatapu.

Satellite images released by Maxar Technologies on Tuesday showed that where most of the volcanic structure stood above sea level a few days ago, there is now just open sea.

Only two relatively small volcanic islands were still visible above sea level after the eruption.

In fact, “what we saw above the water — that has now been destroyed — was only the tip of a volcano that had grown on the rim of the massive underwater volcano,” said Monash University volcanologist Heather Handley.

New Zealand released aerial images taken from a surveillance flight the previous day, revealing a tree-lined coast transformed from green to grey by the volcanic fallout.

‘Distress beacon’

Wrecked buildings were visible on the foreshore alongside others that appeared intact.

Volcanic ash blanketed island fields, images from an Australian Defence Force P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft showed.

Shipping containers had been knocked over like dominoes at a port on the main island.

Australia’s HMAS Adelaide and New Zealand’s HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa were ordered to be ready for a possible aid request from Tonga, which lies three-five days’ sailing away.

With water sources feared to be poisoned by volcanic fallout, the Red Cross said it was sending 2,516 water containers.

France, which has territories in the South Pacific, pledged to help the people of Tonga’s “most urgent needs”.

The UN said a signal had been detected from a distress beacon on a low-lying island, Mango.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said surveillance flights had confirmed “substantial property damage” on Mango, home to some 30 people, and another island, Fonoi.

The UN agency also reported “extensive damage” on the western beaches of the main island Tongatapu, “with several resorts and/or houses destroyed and/or badly damaged”.

Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa was shrouded in two centimetres of volcanic ash and dust, it said.

Power had been restored to parts of the capital. Local phone systems had been restored but international communications were severed.

‘Cling on to a tree’

The capital’s waterfront, the UN body said, was “seriously damaged with rocks and debris pushed inland from the tsunami”.

Satellite images released by the United Nations Satellite Centre showed the impact of the eruption and tsunami on the tiny island of Nomuka, one of the closest to the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano.

The satellite centre said of 104 structures analysed in the cloud-free area, 41 structures were identified as damaged.

Tonga’s airport was working to remove volcanic ash from the capital’s runway. Australia said the ash must be cleared before it can land a C-130 military plane with aid.

The human toll remains largely unknown.

One of the two confirmed dead was Angela Glover, a 50-year-old who ran a stray animals charity and was reported missing by her husband after the tsunami hit.

“Earlier today my family was sadly informed that the body of my sister Angela has been found,” her brother Nick Eleini said after being given the news by the husband, James Glover.

“James was able to cling on to a tree for quite a long time, but Angela was unable to do so and was washed away with the dogs,” he told The Guardian newspaper.

No details were released about the other death.

‘Cable has been cut’

Even when relief efforts get under way, they may be complicated by Covid-19 entry restrictions.

Saturday’s eruption was recorded around the world and heard as far away as Alaska, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States.

In Peru, authorities sealed off three beaches Monday after they were hit by an oil spill blamed on freak waves caused by the volcanic eruption in Tonga.

The blast severed an undersea communications cable between Tonga and Fiji that operators said would take up to two weeks to repair.

“We’re getting sketchy information, but it looks like the cable has been cut,” Southern Cross Cable Network’s networks director Dean Veverka told AFP.

Originally published as Images reveal devastation in tsunami-hit Tonga as freak volcano waves cause horror event

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