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Tonga volcano: Ash and Smoke Cause Concern for Air and Water Safety, says Save the Children

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Jan. 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 that erupted yesterday, reports Save the Children.

Satellite images indicate that the eruption has emitted a 3 mile-wide plume of ash, steam and gas, rising approximately 12 miles above the volcano.  The volcano is about 40 miles north of Tonga’s capital of Nuku’alofa, and caused 4-foot tsunami waves near Nuku’alofa at 5:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, Jan. 15. Save the Children, which runs an education programme in Tonga, is closely monitoring the situation and is prepared to respond where needed, but communications channels have been affected.

The immediate concern in Tonga is for air and water safety due to ash and smoke. The government has asked the public to wear masks and use bottled water for now. A tidal wave was also recorded in Fiji and tsunami warnings were issued for Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, New Zealand and Australia. Authorities have reported no casualties at this stage and all Save the Children staff and volunteers located in Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu are safe and accounted for.

Save the Children Fiji CEO Shairana Ali said: “The booms from the eruption of the Tonga volcano could be clearly heard in Fiji. Our thoughts have been for the safety of our Tongan brothers and sisters, and Save the Children is well-placed to assist as needed.

There have been tidal and tsunami waves hitting parts of Fiji and Vanuatu, causing some damage to coastal areas but thankfully not fatalities. Communications have been affected but we’re doing what we can to ensure those living in low-lying coastal areas are moving to higher-ground. The experts have warned that volcanic activity may continue causing new tsunami warnings to be issued, and recommended people stay indoors to avoid the ash and smoke.

“The people of Pacific Island nations are sadly becoming used to facing disasters. They are incredibly resilient communities. We urge everyone to follow the guidance and Save the Children stands ready to assist. Save the Children has a small presence in Tonga, and more significant staff and resources in Fiji, Vanuatu and throughout the region. In Tonga, Save the Children supports the Ministry of Education to deliver a $1 million distance learning program utilizing technology to reach outlying islands and remote populations.

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