An "unprecedented disaster" and three confirmed deaths: What we know about the Tonga volcano eruption.

The impact of a volcanic eruption off Tonga over the weekend has been felt around the world. 

On Saturday, the underwater Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano violently erupted, sending plumes of smoke and ash into the air and triggering tsunami warnings in a number of countries. 

In the days since, our social media feeds have been full of footage of the eruption and tsunami waves crashing into coastal homes. 

So far, there have been three confirmed deaths. However, officials fear the death toll in Tonga, which remains largely cut off from the rest of the world, could rise as the damage is assessed. 

As the situation continues to unfold, here's everything you need to know about Tonga's volcanic eruption.

What happened when the volcano erupted? 

The Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano, about 30 kilometres southeast of Tonga's Fonuafo'ou island, erupted on Friday 14 January, sending plumes of ash 20km into the air. 

The next day, around 5:26 pm Saturday local time, the underwater volcano erupted a second time, triggering warnings of 1.2-metre tsunami waves and evacuation orders on the shores of Tonga as well as several South Pacific islands. 

An hour later, internet and phone lines went down, leaving the 105,000 residents on the islands virtually uncontactable.

Meanwhile, the island of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai all but disappeared following the blast, according to satellite images from about 12 hours later.


Katie Greenwood, the Pacific head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Reuters up to 80,000 people could have been affected by the tsunami, with waves reaching up to 15 metres high. 

The Ha'atafu Beach Resort, on the Hihifo peninsula, 21km west of the capital Nuku'alofa, was "completely wiped out", the owners said on Facebook.

The family that manages the resort had run for their lives through the bush to escape the tsunami, it said. "The whole western coastline has been completely destroyed along with Kanukupolu village," the resort said.

Outside of Tonga, the impact of the eruption was felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and Japan. 

In northern Peru, more than 10,000km away, two people drowned off a beach due to high waves caused by the tsunami.


All the homes on one of Tonga's Islands have been destroyed and first images have been released. 

The Tongan government has called the eruption an "unprecedented disaster", saying all the homes on one of Tonga's small outer islands have been destroyed, in the first update since the eruption. 

The office of Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said every home on Mango island, where about 50 people live, had been destroyed, only two houses remained on Fonoifua and Namuka island had suffered extensive damage.

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

On the western coast of the main island, 56 houses were completely or seriously damaged and residents moved to evacuation centres.

A search and rescue operation began on Sunday for Atata island, which has a population of about 100 people.

Meanwhile, the first images of the impact of disaster were released by the United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) on Tuesday. 

The satellite images show damage to the small island of Nomuka which has been blanketed in ash following the eruption. 

Fafaa village, Kolofo’ou district, Tongatapu division. Image: UNOSAT.


Kolomotu'a village, Kolomotu'a district, Tongatapu division. Image: UNOSAT.

Tonga's death toll has risen to three. 

Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni's office has confirmed the deaths of a 65-year-old woman on Mango Island and a 49-year-old man on Nomuka Island, in addition to a UK woman whose death was confirmed on Monday. 

50-year-old British woman, Angela Glover, was killed in the tsunami as she tried to rescue the dogs she looked after at a rescue shelter she set up with her husband. 

"She loved her life - both when she was working in London and then she achieved her life's dream of going to work in the south Pacific," Angela's brother, Nick Elein, who lives in Sydney told Sky News.

"She was a lovely girl, and she was the centre of our family. We’re just broken."


Before her death, Angela shared a post on Instagram, writing, "We’ve been under tsunami warnings today...everything’s fine... a few swells... a few eerie silences."

Tongan officials have warned the death toll from the eruption and tsunami is only set to grow, as damage assessment begins.

A number of injuries have also been reported.

All Australians have been accounted for in Tonga. 

A distress signal was detected in Tonga.

A distress signal, detected in an isolated, low-lying group of islands in the Tonga archipelago, has raised concern for its inhabitants, the United Nations said on Monday.  

Initial reports suggested no mass casualties on the main island of Togatapu, but two people were reported missing and the capital Nuku'alofa was badly damaged in Saturday's event, as were resorts and homes along the island's western beaches, it said.


"Further volcanic activity cannot be ruled out," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in the update on Monday, reporting only minor injuries but emphasising that formal assessments, especially of the outer islands, had yet to be released with communications badly hit.

The OCHA said there had been no contact from the Ha'apai group of islands and there was "particular concern" about two small low-lying islands - Fonoi and Mango, where an active distress beacon had been detected.

 According to the Tonga government, 36 people live on Mango and 69 on Fonoi.

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Tonga remains largely cut off from the rest of the world.

The deputy head of mission at Tonga's high commission in Australia, Curtis Tu'ihalangingie, said it would still be weeks before communication was fully restored in the country.

"Communication is on locally, so people can call one another in Tonga, but can't call internationally, we still have limited access to Tonga," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

"We still don't have a direct communication with our government."

Mr Tu'ihalangingie said there was still uncertainty about the level of damage to Tonga, but basic supplies were needed.

"At this point [Tonga needs water and also masks," he said.

"The county was covered with volcanic ash and this is very alarming and dangerous, not only for young children but for everyone."

Australia sent a P-8 plane to survey the damage on Monday, with further support on the way.

But with Tonga enforcing a strict border measure to help keep coronavirus cases out of the country, there are fears international aid efforts could lead to Tonga losing its COVID-free status.

"As much as we are going to send assistance, we will still need to follow the COVID-19 protocols to keep the people in the population safe, rather than us setting a system and there's a tsunami of COVID hitting Tonga, Mr Tu'ihalangingie said.

"We hope to maintain that and we're very appreciative of the understanding of the Australian government and partners."

This article was originally published on January 18, 2022, and was updated on January 19, 2022. 

- With AAP.

Feature Image: [email protected]/[email protected]/@PMBreakingNews.