Aerial photos taken by New Zealand Defense Force reconnaissance flights show destruction on several of Tonga's outer islands, but officials warn that until communications are restored to all parts of the kingdom, it won't be entirely clear how much damage was caused by Saturday's undersea volcano eruption and subsequent tsunami.
Tonga is made up of more than 170 islands, and has a population of about 104,000. When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano erupted early Saturday morning, it sent ash and steam into the air. Because there is still ashfall, all airports, even those that didn't sustain damage by the tsunami, are closed. This is hindering aid efforts, as planes carrying supplies from New Zealand and Australia aren't able to land. Officials are hopeful that Tonga's main airport, Fua'amotu International Airport, will be able to open on Wednesday.
The eruption cut Tonga's undersea communication cable, and officials said the necessary fixes can't be made until volcanic activity stops. Distress signals were detected on Mango Island, home to about 50 people, and it's believed islands were hit by waves up to 30-feet high. "It is very alarming to see the wave possibly went through Atata [Island] from one end to the other," Curtis Tu'ihalangingie, Tonga's deputy head of mission in Australia, told Reuters.
Officials are warning that the death toll, which is now at two, will likely rise. "People panic, people run and get injuries," Tu'ihalangingie said. "Possibly there will be more deaths and we just pray that is not the case." One of the people who died was a British national named Angela Glover, an employee at an animal rescue facility; she died while attempting to save dogs from the tsunami.