Tonga volcano: Ash and smoke raise concerns for air and water safety, Save the Children says

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Sunday January 16, 2022: Families in Tonga are at risk of exposure to unsafe air and water due to ash and smoke from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano which erupted yesterday, Save the Children reports.

Satellite images indicate that the eruption emitted a 5 km wide plume of ash, steam and gas, rising about 20 km above the volcano. The volcano is about 65 kilometers north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and caused a 1.2 meter tsunami at 5:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, January 15.

Save the Children, which runs an education program in Tonga, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready to intervene if needed, but communication channels have been affected.

The immediate concern in Tonga is air and water safety due to ash and smoke. The government has asked the public to wear masks and use bottled water for the time being.

A tidal wave was also recorded in Fiji and tsunami warnings were issued for Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, New Zealand and Australia.

Authorities have not reported any casualties at this stage and all Save the Children staff and volunteers located in Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu are safe and have been traced.

Shairana Ali, CEO of Save the Children Fiji noted: “Booms from the Tonga Volcano eruption could be heard clearly in Fiji. Our thoughts have been for the safety of our Tongan brothers and sisters, and Save the Children is well placed to provide assistance where needed.

“There were tidal waves and tsunamis that hit parts of Fiji and Vanuatu, causing damage to coastal areas, but fortunately no fatalities. Communications have been affected, but we are doing what we can to ensure that those living in low coastal areas move to higher ground.

“Experts warned volcanic activity could continue, leading to further tsunami warnings, and recommended people stay indoors to avoid ash and smoke.

“People in Pacific island nations are unfortunately getting used to dealing with disasters. They are incredibly resilient communities.

“We urge everyone to follow the advice and Save the Children is ready to help.”

Save the Children has a small presence in Tonga, and larger staff and resources in Fiji, Vanuatu and across the region.

In Tonga, Save the Children is supporting the Department of Education to set up a $1 million (AUD) distance learning program using technology to reach outlying islands and isolated populations.

ENDS

For more information, please contact:

[email protected] / +44(0)7831 650409

Emily Wight, [email protected]

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