Entire villages on one of Tonga’s small outer islands have been wiped out by the tsunami that followed Saturday’s massive volcanic eruption, which killed at least three people, the Tongan government said on Tuesday in its first update since the tragedy struck.
The three known fatalities from the tsunami are a 65-year-old woman on Mango Island, a 49-year-old man on Nomuka island, and a 50-year-old Briton identified as Angela Glover on Tongatapu Tonga’s main island, whose body was found on Monday. Glover was reported missing after being swept away by the tsunami while attempting to rescue her dogs.
The tsunami destroyed all homes on Mango Island, leaving only two on Fonoifua, while Nomuka sustained “extensive damage,” the government said in a statement released by its Consulate on Twitter.
In some areas, the tsunami wave reached a height of 15 meters, the statement added.
The Kingdom of Tonga is made up of more than 170 islands, many uninhabited.
On the western side of Tongatapu, 56 houses were damaged in some areas. Several houses on Kolomotu’a and ‘Eua islands were also damaged.
The Tongan Maritime Force had been deployed with health teams to deliver water, food, and tents to the islands. It stated that more aid was dispatched on Tuesday due to the severity of damage observed on Mango, Fonoifua, and Namuka islands.
Evacuations have been carried out on the affected islands, including Atata and parts of Tongatapu islands, with “a number” of injuries reported, the government said.
Communication lines with outer islands were only restored on Monday after the Australian and New Zealand governments dispatched surveillance flights to the Pacific island.
Local phone systems have mostly been restored on Tongatapu and ‘Eua islands, but communications with residents on Vava’u and Ha’apai islands remain limited, while internet services remain down, the Tongan government said.
“There has been no communication with the Niuas as yet. The Niuas are considered low risk because of their relative distance to the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano,” it added.
Meanwhile, the United Nations on Wednesday said that it will conduct relief operations remotely and may not send personnel to Tonga to avoid a coronavirus outbreak there.
Tonga is one of the few countries that are free from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. The country reported only one case of infection since the beginning of the pandemic, which involved a traveler from New Zealand.
“We believe that we will be able to send flights with supplies. We’re not sure that we can send flights with personnel and the reason for this is that Tonga has a very strict COVID-free policy,” Fiji-based U.N. co-ordinator Jonathan Veitch said in a press briefing.
The tiny island nation of just over 100,000 people has 90 percent of immunization coverage both in adults and also younger people over the age of 12, Veitch said.
“They’ve been very cautious about opening their borders like many Pacific islands, and that’s because of the history of disease outbreaks in the Pacific which has wiped out societies here,” he added.
Parliament Speaker Lord Fakafanua said via satellite phone on Monday that Tonga is in need of COVID-safe support to ensure enough fresh drinking water and food. He said that details about Tonga’s official disaster relief fund would be announced soon, with all relief funds to be verified “to ensure the help kindly offered reaches those in need.”
Reuters contributed to this report.