Reports: Volcanic Eruption in Tonga Deafened Many Locals, Possibly Loudest Event in 139 Years

FILE - In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, volcanic ash covers roof tops and vegetation in an area of Tonga, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Thick ash on an airport runway was delaying aid deliveries to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, where significant damage was being …
CPL Vanessa Parker/NZDF via AP, File

A Tongan journalist said the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday was so powerful that many residents were deafened and had to use hand gestures to communicate while evacuating.

“The first explosion … our ears were ringing and we couldn’t even hear each other, so all we do is pointing to our families to get up, get ready to run,” journalist Marian Kupu told Reuters. 

The seismic blast was heard from the South Pacific, where Tonga is located, all the way to Alaska, and was possibly the loudest event to take place on earth in nearly 140 years, said geophysicist Michael Poland with the U.S. Geological Survey, according to NPR.

“This might be the loudest eruption since [the eruption of the Indonesian volcano] Krakatau in 1883,” Poland explained. 

According to NPR: 

NASA researchers have an estimate of the power of a massive volcanic eruption that took place on Saturday near the island nation of Tonga.

“We come up with a number that’s around 10 megatons of TNT equivalent,” James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told NPR.

That means the explosive force was more than 500 times as powerful as the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

The eruption prompted tsunami warnings for the entire West Coast of the United States, Alaska, and Hawaii, Breitbart News reported.

The tremendous force sent 50-foot waves crashing down on one Tongan island while “Villages, resorts and many buildings on” other islands were severely damaged, according to Reuters.

At least three people were killed by the eruption, the outlet reports.

“I won’t say we are expecting more deaths but as we are speaking the government is trying to fly to the other islands to check over them,” Kupu said.

“We evacuated and then we, all our families, were just running away from the Kolovai area, because the Kolovai is right beside the seashore,” Kupu told Reuters while detailing evacuations that took place near the Tonga capital Nuku’alofa. 

An underwater internet cable was compromised by the eruption and cut domestic communications in the county while simultaneously disconnecting Tonga from the rest of the world, per Reuters. Days later, “communications have only been partially restored” according to the outlet. 

Kupu explained that citizens are significantly concerned about access to clean drinking water as volcanic ash has contaminated much of the country’s drinkable water. 

Reuters reports: 

When asked about food supplies for Tonga’s estimated 105,000 people, Kupu said: “Maybe we can survive for the next few weeks but I’m not sure about water”.

Power to the capital and elsewhere was still fragile.

“Electricity is back, but it’s on and off. This is due to a lot of ash on transformers and street lights have been damaged. Some outages last for hours, some lasts for days,” said Kupu.

Aid flights from Australia and New Zealand began to arrive at the archipelago on Thursday as the Nuku’alofa airport was finally cleared of ash, NPR reports.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the country sent a plane “carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment.”

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