Tonga volcano eruption: Tsunamis hit Pacific islands as Jacina Ardern warns
A Queensland father faces a heartbreaking wait after losing contact with his four-year-old son in Tonga when a volcano erupted in the Pacific Ocean – with Jacinda Ardern warning concerned families had devastated parts of the island by a tsunami.
Mosese Sitapa was on FaceTime with his son Elone on Saturday when the tsunami swept through their home in the South Pacific.
Despite desperate attempts to contact the little boy and his loved ones, the devoted father has not made it through and is still anxiously awaiting an update.
He is just one of thousands of Tongans in Australia and New Zealand struggling to contact family members after a massive underwater volcano erupts.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned families desperate for their loved ones they could face many more sleepless nights as contact with Tonga remains limited
Photos have been posted on social media of children sleeping in tents after being evacuated from their homes (pictured)
The earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale, 65 km from the capital Nuku’alofa, triggered tsunami waves and major flooding up to 10,000 km from the epicenter.
Mr Sitapa said he saw the giant waves on social media and tried to warn the toddler over the phone, but his efforts came too late.
“I just talked to him and he kept playing with his toys. It was so sad,” he said 9News.
He has not heard from his son or his mother since the earthquake struck, and Tonga was largely out of reach on Sunday.
The eruption lasted eight minutes and was heard as “loud thunders” more than 500 miles away in Fiji, officials in the capital Suva said.
Mosese Sitapa (pictured) was on FaceTime with his son Elone on Saturday when a once in a lifetime tsunami hit their home in the South Pacific
Monster waves swept through the city, forcing residents to race to higher ground when they were hit by ash and small rocks that fell from the sky.
The effect of the volcanic eruption has been felt with warnings in New Zealand, the US, Canada and South America activated off the east coast of Australia, Fiji, New Vanuatu, American Samoa, Lord Howe Island, Macquarie Island and Norkfolk Island.
In New Zealand, a dock in a Tutukaka marina on the North Island was torn apart on Sunday after waves from the volcanic eruption came in.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned families desperate to talk to their loved ones that they may face many more sleepless nights.
‘Communication with Tonga remains very limited. And I know that’s causing a tremendous amount of fear in the Tongan community here,” said Ms Ardern.
While there have been no reports of injury or death to date, a full assessment of the situation was impossible without available communications (photo, the underwater eruption)
The prime minister reiterated that the earthquake had caused “significant damage”, the full extent of which was not fully understood, while lines of communication were still unavailable.
Southern Cross Cable Network, the company that operates the connection, doesn’t yet know “if the cable has been cut or simply has a power outage,” said technical director Dean Veverka.
“The tsunami has had a significant impact on the waterfront on the north side of Nuku’alofa with boats washed up and large boulders,” Ms Ardern said after talks with the New Zealand embassy in Tonga.
“Nuku’alofa is covered in a thick layer of volcanic dust, but otherwise conditions are calm and stable.”
Ms Ardern said Tonga needed fresh water because the volcanic ash – which was sprayed 20 meters high during the earthquake – had contaminated water supplies.
The government has asked the public to wear masks and use bottled water for the time being.
The tsunami has had a significant impact on the waterfront on the north side of Nuku’alofa with washed up boats and large boulders, the New Zealand Prime Minister said.
People examine a damaged boat off Tutukaka in New Zealand on Sunday after waves from the volcano hit the marina
The prime minister said the images of the violent volcanic eruption near Tonga were “hugely concerning”, with the armed forces devising strategic ways to help.
New Zealand has so far only been able to send a military surveillance flight over Tonga on Sunday because the ash cloud was 19,000 meters high, but they hoped to send another flight on Monday, followed by supply planes and naval vessels.
Photos have been posted on social media of children sleeping in tents after being evacuated from their homes.
Dozens of homes in Tonga have suffered severe structural damage, while others have been completely flooded with broken internet and telephone connections.
Reports of casualties are yet to come, meaning Tongans living abroad and in nearby New Zealand are struggling to wait for updates.
While there have been no reports of injury or death to date, a full assessment of the situation was impossible without some communication.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Sunday afternoon that no Australians were injured in Tonga.
In New Zealand, a dock in a marina near Tutukaka in the North Island was torn apart on Sunday after waves from the volcanic eruption came in (pictured)
Mr Hunt said Foreign Secretary Marise Payne and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are working with Tongan authorities.
“DFAT will continue to work with the Tongan government and have provided all possible support through the Foreign Secretary,” Mr Hunt said.
The Australian Foreign Aid Office has said it would immediately prepare to send critical humanitarian supplies and a surveillance plane from Canberra.
The United States also vowed to support Tonga, while Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said the country was “deeply concerned about the people of Tonga.”
Huge waves of up to four feet were recorded at Port San Luis on Saturday, and waves with a tsunami effect were recorded along the coast in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.
Despite warnings, residents flocked to the beaches to watch the tsunami’s waves, and some surfers gently threw the wind to catch them.
An aerial view of capsized boats believed to have been affected by the Muroto tsunami in Japan
In Australia, the eruption led to a major surfing event in Sydney being canceled on Sunday, with most beaches in New South Wales closed.
At around noon on Sunday, the Bureau of Meteorology reported that tsunami warnings for Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland had been cancelled.
At about 10 p.m., the same warning for New South Wales was withdrawn by the Bureau.
In Japan, authorities warned of waves up to 3 meters high. A 1.2-meter high tsunami was registered in the Kominato district of Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture at 11:55 PM on Saturday (1:55 AM AEDT).
The tsunami also reached South America, causing severe flooding in Peru on the continent’s west coast. The Chilean coast of Los Rios, nearly 10,000 km from Tonga, was also affected.
Chilean beaches were left empty after a mass evacuation along the vast coastline, which stretches for more than half the length of the continent’s west coast.
Chile’s National Emergency Management Authority has issued a tsunami warning in three regions of the country following the eruption of the Honga Hapai volcano.