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Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai Volcano Erupts in Tonga

A massive volcanic eruption in the southern pacific on January Fourteenth and Fifteenth has devastated the island nation of Tonga, with five confirmed casualties and thousands injured. This blast, which has been identified as one of the largest eruptions of the century, has already decimated the island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai – destroying the entire surface presence – and sending shockwaves around the globe. In addition, massive tsunamis swept across the Pacific Ocean to strike Southeast Asia and North America, and volcanically triggered earthquakes continue to ripple throughout the nation.

At approximately 5:10 PM, the volcano located under the islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai erupted with colossal force, sending an ash cloud more than forty kilometers into the atmosphere, almost halfway to the Karman Line (an internationally determined arbitrary boundary for outer space). This cloud of ejecta covered the entire nation of Tonga, spreading over an area of 1.3 million square kilometers – equivalent to the area of France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Germany combined. This eruption also sent a shock wave and sonic boom across the globe. The tsunamis generated by the Hunga Tonga eruption have swept across the Pacific Ocean, reaching both coasts, where waves and flooding over three meters have been recorded. In Peru, two casualties were reported after massive floods pulled people out to sea; in the United States, waves were recorded flooding marinas and low-lying coastal areas throughout the state of California.

The outlying islands in the nation of Tonga have experienced the greatest negative effects of this eruption. Because the initial force of the blast knocked out all digital communication to the mainland, few reports have been issued about the extent of the destruction. However, outside observers sent from the US, New Zealand, and Australia have noted the absolute destruction of most buildings on the islands surrounding the volcano, as well as significant amounts of debris launched from the crater and thrown onto each island. In addition, the volcanic ash cloud has deposited a thick layer of ash throughout the islands, and acid rain formed by the ejecta has begun to rain down on Tonga. International states expect widespread devastation and near-entire destruction of most inhabited areas

In response to the blast, international aid organizations and adjacent nation-states immediately mobilized aid and relevant resources to support the Tongan people. The New Zealand, Australian, UK, and US navies each deployed one or more ships to Tonga carrying resources like desalination plants, aircraft, medical aid, and electrical generators. Several aerial convoys were unable to land at Tongan airstrips due to the high volume of ash dropped on the landing areas, so volunteers worked by hand to clear them of debris. While this aid has been crucial to the economic and social recovery of Tonga, the nation – which has recorded one case of COVID-19 throughout the entire pandemic – has already turned back several shipments of aid resources due to positive cases of the virus. However, the recovery and aid process has already proved vital in supporting Tonga and facilitating the health and wellness of the Tongan people.

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