Tonga tsunami: 3 confirmed dead as leaked military photos show 'catasrophic' damage

18 January 2022, 09:30 | Updated: 18 January 2022, 15:43

Leaked military photos have surfaced showing the scale of destruction on Tonga
Leaked military photos have surfaced showing the scale of destruction on Tonga. Picture: NZ Defence Force

By Asher McShane

Three people are now known to have died after a volcanic eruption caused tsunami waves to hit Tonga, causing "catastrophic" damage.

They include British woman Angela Glover, who was killed when she was swept away last Saturday, leaving her family "devastated".

The office of Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said a 65-year-old woman on Mango Island and a 49-year-old man on Nomuka Island had been killed, and a number of injuries reported.

Tsunami waves reaching up to 15 metres hit the Ha’apia island group, where Mango is located, and the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, the prime minister's office said.

A series of leaked military photos have shown for the first time the scale of destruction caused.

Aerial images prepared by the New Zealand defence force for the Tongan government were leaked online after a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion reconnaissance plane was sent to the island.

The pictures highlight areas of the island with “catastrophic” devastation inflicted by the tsunami and eruption.

A separate series of images also showing the island of Tonga covered in ash.

Read more: Brit tsunami victim died on Tongan beach trying to save her dogs, brother reveals

The images showed 'catastrophic' damage on the island
The images showed 'catastrophic' damage on the island. Picture: NZ Defence Force

A plume of smoke can be seen rising from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano in images taken before the eruption before it disappears under a giant ash cloud.

It also emerged that the enormous scale and power of the volcanic eruption caused changes to air pressure waves across the UK.

An airstrip on Tonga covered in ash
An airstrip on Tonga covered in ash. Picture: NZ Defence Force

Meteorologists detected the waves in areas including Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Met Office has confirmed a 'ripple' effect as the eruption sent air pressure rising across the eastern coastline, following Saturday's massive undersea volcanic eruption.

The island is waiting to receive deliveries of vital supplies
The island is waiting to receive deliveries of vital supplies. Picture: NZ Defence Force

The island was left without power after the eruption and was cut off, with thick ash on the airport runway delaying aid deliveries.

An aerial photo taken on Jan. 17, 2022 by a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion aircraft, showing the main island of Tonga after the volcano erupted
An aerial photo taken on Jan. 17, 2022 by a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion aircraft, showing the main island of Tonga after the volcano erupted. Picture: Alamy

Significant damage has been reported days after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami.

New Zealand's military is sending much-needed drinking water and other supplies, but said the ash on the runway will delay the flight by at least a day.

Aerial images show the devastation on the island, which is covered in a thick layer of ash
Aerial images show the devastation on the island, which is covered in a thick layer of ash. Picture: Alamy

A towering ash cloud since Saturday's eruption had prevented earlier flights. New Zealand is also sending two navy ships to Tonga that will leave on Tuesday and pledged an initial 1 million New Zealand dollars (£500,000) towards recovery efforts.

Aid flights have been trying to reach the ash-covered island of Tonga
Aid flights have been trying to reach the ash-covered island of Tonga. Picture: NZ Defence Force

Communications with Tonga have been extremely limited, but New Zealand and Australia sent military surveillance flights to assess the damage on Monday.

UN humanitarian officials and Tonga's government "report significant infrastructural damage around Tongatapu," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

"There has been no contact from the Ha'apai Group of islands, and we are particularly concerned about two small low-lying islands - Mango and Fonoi - following surveillance flights confirming substantial property damage."

New Zealand's High Commission in Tonga also reported "significant damage" along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, including to resorts and along the waterfront area.

Satellite images captured the spectacular eruption, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific.

Tsunami waves of about 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) crashed into Tonga's shoreline, and crossed the Pacific, causing minor damage from New Zealand to Santa Cruz, California. The eruption set off a sonic boom that could be heard as far away as Alaska.

Two people drowned in Peru, which also reported an oil spill after waves moved a ship that was transferring oil at a refinery.

New Zealand's Acting High Commissioner for Tonga, Peter Lund, said there were unconfirmed reports of up to three fatalities on Tonga so far.

One death has been confirmed by family: British woman Angela Glover, 50, who was swept away by a wave.

Nick Eleini said his sister's body had been found and that her husband survived.

"I understand that this terrible accident came about as they tried to rescue their dogs," Mr Eleini told Sky News. He said it had been his sister's "life dream" to live in the South Pacific and "she loved her life there".

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano, about 64 kilometres (40 miles) north of Nuku'alofa, was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions. In late 2014 and early 2015, eruptions created a small new island and disrupted air travel to the Pacific archipelago.

Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC had watched the island after a new vent began erupting in late December. Satellite images showed how drastically the volcano had shaped the area, creating a growing island off Tonga.

The UN World Food Program is exploring how to bring in relief supplies and more staff and has received a request to restore communication lines in Tonga, Mr Dujarric said.

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