Ash from an erupting underwater volcano has made Tonga look like “a moonscape”, according to locals on the Pacific island.
Particles emitted by the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano – a “once in a millennium” event visible from space – have darkened skies and contaminated water supplies.
Locals said the island now resembles the surface of the moon after being covered in a layer of volcanic ash, the BBC reported.
Fresh water is now vital on the island, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said, as authorities told the 105,000 residents to drink only bottled water and wear face masks to protect their airways.
New Zealand has sent a plane to Tonga to assess the extent of the damage after satellite images captured the explosion sending plumes of smoke and volcanic ash into the air about 20km above sea level. Wed.
Experts say the eruption, which triggered a 7.4 magnitude earthquake, was one of the most violent in the region in decades.
The eruption had triggered a tsunami with waves 1.2 meters high which crashed into houses on the coast of Tonga – which is 1,481 miles northeast of New Zealand – as well as several islands in the South Pacific.
People fled low-lying areas for fear the waves would get bigger, footage has surfaced online.
Residents were cut off from the rest of the world after the vast majority – if not all – of power, internet and phone lines went down at around 6:40 p.m. local time on Saturday.
Parts of the island are seeing power restored and some mobile phones have started working again, Ms Ardern said.
But families and friends of those who could not be contacted became increasingly concerned for the safety of their loved ones as reports of casualties had not yet come in.
There are no official reports of injuries or deaths as no contact has been made with outlying coastal areas beyond the capital Nuku’alofa and closer to the volcano, Ms Ardern told a conference Press.
“Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust, but otherwise conditions are calm and stable,” she said.
“There are parts of Tonga where we just don’t know yet…we just haven’t established communication.”
Experts said the volcano rarely erupts, but can have “several weeks or even years” of “unrest” once it does.
Professor Shane Cronin, an eruption expert in Tonga, from the University of Auckland, said: “This is one of the massive explosions the volcano is capable of producing approximately every thousand years.
“We could live for several weeks or even years from major volcanic unrest at the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano.”
Prof Cronin also said: ‘Help will be needed to restore clean water supplies.
“Residents of Tonga should also remain alert for further eruptions and especially short-notice tsunamis and should avoid low-lying areas.”
The event triggered warnings in a number of countries, including the United States, where flooding was seen in California, and Japan.
Powerful waves were recorded in countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Shockwaves were also recorded by observing sites in the UK, around 10,000 miles from Tonga, according to the Met Office.
UK Foreign Secretary Zac Goldsmith called the situation in Tonga “shocking” and said Britain was “ready to help and support our friend and Commonwealth partner in any way we can”.