The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano on 15 January 2022 was the largest recorded since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. The eruption triggered tsunami waves of up to 15m which struck the west coast of Tongatapu, ‘Eua and Ha’apai. Ashfall covered an area of at least five square kilometres.
Damage to the international and domestic undersea telecommunications meant little information was available from Tonga following the eruption. However, New Zealand Defence Force and Australian Defence Forces surveillance flights on 17 January showed significant damage to houses, roads, water tanks and other infrastructure on the west coast of Tongatapu, the Ha’apai island group and the west coast of ‘Eua. On 18 January, the Prime Minister of Tonga declared a state of emergency effective from 16 January. The Tongan Government and TRCS requested international assistance.
Only three direct and one indirect fatality have been officially attributed to the volcano and tsunami. Early government estimates were that 84,176 people (84 per cent of the population) on Tongatapu, Ha’apai and ‘Eua) were affected, particularly by ashfall. Around 3,000 people were displaced in the immediate aftermath, including some evacuated from seriously affected islands off the coast of Tongatapu and in the Ha’apai island group. Most subsequently returned to their communities, although some families evacuated from badly affected islands remain on Tongatapu. (IFRC, 2 Aug 2022)