Scientists warn of ‘unprecedented’ environmental disaster with acid rain and ash from Tonga volcano

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Tonga’s massive underwater volcanic eruption could result in years-long damage to coral reefs and fisheries that are vital to the local economy, scientists have warned. 

The Pacific Island nation’s government said it was facing an “unprecedented disaster” in its first update since an eruption with a force equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs on the uninhabited volcanic island of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’ap blew ash and gas some 30 kilometres into the air. 

The tsunami that followed generated waves of up to 15 metres, slamming into the west coast of Tongatapu, ‘Eua and Ha’apai islands and wiping out an entire village on the islet of Mango, where one of four known fatalities occurred. 

Communication channels with Tonga remain largely down, but some new photos emerged on Wednesday showing close up versions of the “catastrophic” damage spotted earlier this week by surveillance planes from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. 

International telephone connectivity was restored in Tonga on Wednesday after it was knocked out by a volcanic eruption over the weekend, telecom operator Digicel said.

“Digicel international calls service is back up,” regional CEO Shally Janif said in statement on the company website.

Internet connectivity is likely to take weeks or more to be restored after an undersea cable was damaged in Saturday’s eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano

The images revealed uprooted trees, mangled buildings, fallen powerlines and roads blocked by debris. 

As far away as Peru, local authorities in Ventanilla, on the country’s central coast, said on Tuesday that an oil spill that has killed wildlife and severely damaged local beaches have been caused by abnormal waves generated by the Tonga blast.

Photo – A handout satellite image made available by the Tonga Meteorological Services, Government of Tonga shows an explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, 15 January 2022. EPA-EFE/TONGA METEOROLOGICAL SERVICES HANDOUT –

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