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Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami 2022: what happened on island, who were victims, and what was the damage?

A key underwater cable destroyed in volcano eruption could take four weeks to repair

A volcano eruption on Saturday 15 January causing a huge tsunami in the South Pacific island of Tonga has claimed three lives.

The eruption has destroyed a key underwater cable, causing all communications to the island to be cut and leaving family and friends desperate to try and get hold of loved ones.

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New Zealand’s foreign ministry has said it may take around four weeks until the cable is repaired.

Teams have been working to get vital supplies to the island, and aid ships from New Zealand and Australia are expected to arrive at the region on Friday 21 January

What has happened on the island?

An undersea volcano erupted near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, triggering a large tsunami.

The eruption of the volcano could be heard more than a thousand miles away in New Zealand and sent large waves crashing across the shore of Tonga, causing those on the island to rush to higher ground.

Aid organisations say up to 80,000 people on the islands could be affected by the disaster, and three deaths have currently been reported.

A key undersea cable was destroyed during the eruption, preventing international communications to the island and leaving friends and family members across the world desperately trying to get in touch with their loved ones.

The cable will take at least four weeks to be repaired, New Zealand’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday 19 January.

US cable company SubCom said it was working with telecommunications company Tonga Cable to mobilise a ship for the cable repairs, Reuters reported.

Telecommunications firm Digicel is expected to set up an interim 2G connection today (Wednesday 19 January) that prioritises voice and SMS communications, the statement by New Zealand’s foreign affairs ministry added.

However the connection is expected to be “limited and patchy”.

Amanda Watson, a research fellow from the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, said the key cable wire being damaged and leaving the island isolated, highlights the importance of telecommunications and internet access in Pacific island nations - with many of them only have one underwater cable each.

She said: “It would be ideal if each country could have more than one cable, in order to provide for some redundancy in the event that one cable is damaged.”

What is the current situation?

On Wednesday morning the Red Cross said it had “joyfully and happily” been able to make contact with its team in Tonga for the very first time since Saturday’s eruption, its Pacific Head of Delegation Katie Greenwood told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

However, she said “there is devastating news from Tonga overnight with the loss and destruction of homes.”

Ms Greenwood explained that he Red Cross teams were working to distribute clean water and telling people to cover their rain water tanks to protect them from ash had boosted bottled water supplies.

Tonga’s main airport runway is expected to be cleared on Wednesday after rescue teams and volunteers worked hard to clear the ash from the tarmac, New Zealand authorities said.

“We thought that it would be operational [Tuesday], but it hasn’t been fully cleared yet because more ash has been falling,” Jonathan Veitch told reporters.

Mr Veitch also praised the quick response of New Zealand and Australia in providing aid through dispatching navy ships. The ships are expected to arrive on Friday 21 January.

Have British nationals been affected?

The body of a British woman living in Tonga has been found after she was reported missing by friends and family following a tsunami that hit the island on Saturday (15 January).

Social media posts say Angela and James Glover, who live in Tonga, were hit by 4ft waves but her husband was able to cling onto a tree.

Mrs Glover’s brother, Nick Eleini, has confirmed the 50-year-old died while trying to save her dogs and her body was found by her husband.

Social media posts say Angela and James Glover, who live in Tonga, were hit by 4ft waves but her husband was able to cling onto a tree (Picture: Facebook)

Reading out a statement, he told Sky News: “I understand that this terrible accident came about as they tried to rescue their dogs.

“As you can imagine, her family is devastated. And we respectfully request that we are given privacy to grieve.”

Angela previously worked in the advertising industry in London. Her social media profiles suggest she grew up in Brighton before beginning a new life in the Pacific island nation around 2015.

Past media reports identify her as the vice-president of Tonga Animal Welfare Society, which was founded in 2020 to offer basic animal care in a nation that has no qualified vets.

A source at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it was assisting British nationals and their families following the tsunami in Tonga.

Siniva Filise, 42, who lives in Barry, Wales, has also been struggling to contact her father Fakahau Valu, 73, and her mother Lioneti Valu, 66, since Saturday morning.

Ms Filise has called it “one of the toughest moments” of her life.

She has since been notified that her parents are “safe and well” through a former colleague on the island but has not been able to speak to them.

“I cried last night when she messaged me and said she had managed to speak to them and they were both fine,” she told the PA news agency.

Ms Filise said: “That’s the only the message I’ve had but it gives me a glimmer of hope, even though I haven’t been able to speak to them directly.

“We are so close and we’re so used to having my mum call us that when something like (the volcanic eruption) happens… I just feel helpless.”

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