Tonga tsunami

This item appears on page 5 of the March 2022 issue.

An undersea volcanic eruption in Tonga on Jan. 15 caused a tsunami that hit coasts on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, killing three people in Tonga and completely destroying coastal communities there. More than 6,000 miles away in Peru, two people were killed by tsunami waves.

The eruption plus the tsunami, which peaked at 49 feet in Tonga, cut off all communications to and from the country, with only satellite images showing the damage in the days following the event.

The volcano, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, on an uninhabited island 40 miles north of the capital, Nuku’alofa, had been erupting since December. On the 15th, the volcano’s caldera collapsed beneath the water, and the rush of seawater into the super-heated magma chamber resulted in a flash vaporization and an explosion of gases that sent steam and ash up to 25 miles into the atmosphere. The sound of the eruption was heard nearly 1,500 miles away in New Zealand.