Before and after images show Tonga smothered in ash after volcanic eruption causes tsunami

·3 min read

A thick layer of volcanic ash blanketed Tonga after new images showed the aftermath of Saturday's massive undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami that sparked fears of widespread disaster.

Aerial and satellite photos released by New Zealand, Australia and UNOSAT, the United Nations satellite center, show once green, lush islands smothered in dark ash. Water from large waves that crashed ashore after the eruption can also be seen, alongside wrecked buildings.

Thick ash and smoke contaminated the rainwater many residents rely on to drink, prompting local authorities to ask residents to wear masks and drink bottled water. New Zealand's military promised shipments of water and other supplies but announced Tuesday that the ash coating Tonga's runways would delay flights by at least another day.

In this handout photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, an aerial view from a P-3K2 Orion surveillance flight of homes covered in ash on Monday in Nomuka, Tonga.
In this handout photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, an aerial view from a P-3K2 Orion surveillance flight of homes covered in ash on Monday in Nomuka, Tonga.

Stunning satellite images show Saturday's eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which propelled a 3-mile-wide plume of ash and gas resembling a giant mushroom to about 12 miles above the water. Tsunami waves resulting from the explosion sent people rushing to higher ground, and the eruption disrupted communication with the small island nation over the weekend.

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Yet Tonga avoided the widespread disaster many had feared, and tsunami waves rose only to about 2.7 feet. Tonga has reported two deaths, but concerns remain over the impact on two smaller islands as fractured communication continues.

Red Cross officials estimated 50 homes were destroyed in Tonga's main island of Tongatapu, where U.N. and Tonga officials reported “significant infrastructural damage."

"We did hold grave fears, given the magnitude of what we saw in that unprecedented blast," said Katie Greenwood, the head of delegation in the Pacific for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "Fortunately, in those major population centers, we are not seeing the catastrophic effect we thought might happen."

Below, see the satellite images showing areas before and after the eruption.

Before and after: Village of Niutoua

This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC, shows Niutoua in Tongatapu, Tonga on Jan. 9, 2021.
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC, shows Niutoua in Tongatapu, Tonga on Jan. 9, 2021.
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC, shows Niutoua in Tongatapu, Tonga, on Monday after a huge undersea volcanic eruption.
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC, shows Niutoua in Tongatapu, Tonga, on Monday after a huge undersea volcanic eruption.

Before and after: Hunga-Tonga volcanic island

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies was taken on April 10, 2021, shows green vegetation visibly growing on the Hunga-Tonga - Hunga-Haa'pai volcano in Tonga.
This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies was taken on April 10, 2021, shows green vegetation visibly growing on the Hunga-Tonga - Hunga-Haa'pai volcano in Tonga.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano was seen smoking on Jan. 7.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano was seen smoking on Jan. 7.

Before and after: Village of Kanokupolu

An overview of Kanokupolu in Tongatapu, Tonga, on Friday.
An overview of Kanokupolu in Tongatapu, Tonga, on Friday.
Kanokupolu in Tongatapu, Tonga, on Sunday after a huge undersea volcanic eruption.
Kanokupolu in Tongatapu, Tonga, on Sunday after a huge undersea volcanic eruption.

Before and after: Neighborhoods in Tonga covered in ash

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows homes and buildings in Tonga on Dec. 29, 2021.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows homes and buildings in Tonga on Dec. 29, 2021.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows ash-covered homes and buildings in Tonga this week after a huge undersea volcanic eruption.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows ash-covered homes and buildings in Tonga this week after a huge undersea volcanic eruption.

Before and after: Nuku'alofa port

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the main port facilities in Nuku’alofa, Tonga on Dec. 29, 2021.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the main port facilities in Nuku’alofa, Tonga on Dec. 29, 2021.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the main port facilities in Nuku’alofa, Tonga this week after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the main port facilities in Nuku’alofa, Tonga this week after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami.

Eruption's effects ripple across an ocean

The volcano's blast was heard in Alaska. Tsunami effects crossed the ocean to the U.S. Pacific coast. And waves caused an oil spill and two drownings in Peru.

Dave Snider, the tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, called it very unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect an entire ocean basin.

In Peru, two people drowned, and large waves caused an oil spill after they shifted a boat that was transferring oil at a refinery. Peruvian officials said Monday the spill was controlled within hours.

A tsunami advisory was in effect Saturday for Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Pacific coast but the threat receded Sunday after West Coast authorities pleaded with residents over the weekend to stay away from beaches.

Still, two people were taken to the hospital after being swept out to sea while they were fishing at San Gregorio State Beach in San Mateo County, Cal Fire said. The National Weather Service said there were reports of boats getting pushed up in docks, and isolated flooding was reported, including at Port San Luis and Santa Cruz, California. But there did not appear to be widespread damage.

In Tonga, a British woman who was swept away by a wave while trying to save her dogs became the first reported death from the tsunami.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tonga before and after volcano eruption: Satellite images show damage