On Atata island, 72 structures were identified as damaged & 28 as potentially damaged.
The entire island appears to be covered in ash.
— UNOSAT (@UNOSAT) January 18, 2022
According to a Tongan Government press release on Tuesday, the three fatalities are a British national, and two Tongan nationals.
The UN World Health Organization, WHO, has reported that many people are still missing, whilst around 90 people headed to safety in evacuation centres on the island of Eua, and many others fled to the homes of friends and family.
On the main island of Tongatapu, around 100 houses have been damaged, and 50 completely destroyed, according to the UN humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, which updated journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.
The agency pointed out that it is still in the process of collecting information about the scale of destruction, and it has not been possible to contact any of the islands of the Ha’apai et Vava’u chains.
The Mango and Fonoi islands, which form part of the Ha’apai chain, are a particular cause for concern, said OCHA Spokeperson Jens Laerke, with surveillance flights showing widespread damage to buildings, and images from UN Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) show that, on the small island of Nomuka, one of the closest to the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, 41 of 104 visible structures have been damaged, and almost all are covered by ash, although the Centre notes that this assessment remains to be verified by teams on the ground.
WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier, told journalists on Tuesday that Tongatapu is covered by around two centimetres of volcanic dust and ash, raising concerns of air, water and food pollution.
There is some positive news, he added: all health facilities on the main island are fully operational, and clean-up operations have already begun.
Biggest eruption in 3 decades
The volcanic eruption was the largest recorded in thirty years. A huge, 20 km high mushroom cloud of smoke and ash was followed by a tsunami, and the eruption was heard as far away as Australia and New Zealand, causing tsunami warnings across the Pacific.
Waves as high as 1.2 metres hit the capital, Nuku’alofa, whose inhabitants fled to high ground, leaving behinds flooded houses, whilst rocks and ash rained from the sky.
The WHO reports that the Tongan Government reacted quickly to the crisis, deploying a warship to the Ha’api islands, with a team from the WHO-trained Tonga Emergency Medical Assistance Team on board, ready to help the injured.
The Government is advising the Tongan population to stay inside, wear masks if they have to go outside, and drink bottled water to avoid health risks arising from the fallen ash.