16 January 2022
Radio New Zealand has reported today, Sunday, there has been little contact with Tonga since an underwater volcano, Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai, erupted early yesterday evening.
A tsunami hit the Kingdom after the volcano erupted for eight minutes, throwing clouds of ash into the sky.
Waves flooded the capital, Nuku'alofa, where video footage has shown water engulfing buildings.
Communications with Tonga has been down since 6.30pm yesterday, with reports that power had been cut in the capital.
Tongan authorities should have a clearer picture this morning of the scale of the damage from Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami.
The New Zealand defence force is currently monitoring the situation in Tonga, and said it stands ready to assist if requested by the Tongan Government.
Scientists are predicting that Tonga's main island, Tongatapu, could be blanketed in ash this morning.
An Auckland University volcanologist, Shane Cronin, said the magma type erupted by Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai is called an 'intermediate composition' - similar to what comes from the Ruapehu volcano.
It was not especially rich in volatiles such as sulphur or fluorine, and as a result, this volcanic ash was not especially toxic.
However, he said, all volcanic ash could produce acid rain.
"Help will be needed to restore drinking water supplies."
Otago University geologist Marco Brenna estimated that Tonga's main island, Tongatapu, will be blanketed with a few millimetres to a few centimetres of ash today.
Dr Cronin said the Hunga eruption was a one-in-1000-year event.
Radiocarbon dating suggested one major eruption of this scale occurred about AD1100 and another in AD200, he said.
"This, along with other data from the volcanic ash records, suggests a recurrence interval of 900 to 1000 years for very large eruptions at the volcano.
"The current eruption seems to be one of these large events which fits with the timing since the last of these in [circa] AD1100."
I hope the people of Tonga will have escaped injury and will emerge safe after the volcano subsides and the volcanic ash cleared away.
My belief is that the people of Tonga are resilient and face hardship with endurance and determination.
A true story that enforces that belief is one that happened in June 1952 when, as a teenager, I watched on a small television set at home the royal procession through the streets of London following the coronation ceremony of H.M Queen Elizabeth II.
The procession was made up of then Colonial Rulers, which included Her Majesty Queen Salote of Tonga who sat in an open horse drawn carriage throughout the lengthy procession. It rained heavily at the time and Queen Salote became soaked with the rain, but she kept smiling broadly and heartily waved to the crowds lining the streets.
The Daily Telegraph reported that she received biggest cheers of the day, except for The Queen herself and Sir Winston Churchill and that, later, a woman went up to her carriage in Knightsbridge and call out "Good luck. You were marvellous".
The same newspaper concluded concluded that "Queen Salote, whose genial dignity has won an extraordinary quantity of affection from the British people". The Times described her as "the outstanding overseas figure of the celebrations".
Queen Salote, who ended her reign in Tonga in 1965, was awarded by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II the GCMG and the award of Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire (GBE).