WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The blast from the volcano could be heard in Alaska, and the waves crossed the ocean to cause an oil spill and two drownings in Peru. The startling satellite images resembled a massive nuclear explosion.
And yet, despite sitting almost on top of the volcano that erupted so violently on Saturday, the Pacific nation of Tonga appears to have avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.
In its first update since the eruption, the government said Tuesday it has confirmed three deaths — two local residents and a British woman. Concerns remain over the fate of people on some of the hard-hit smaller islands, where many houses were destroyed. Communications have been down everywhere, making assessments more difficult.
But on Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, perhaps the biggest problem is the ash that has transformed it into a gray moonscape, contaminating the rainwater that people rely on to drink. New Zealand’s military is sending fresh water and other much-needed supplies, but said Tuesday the ash covering Tonga’s main runway will delay the flight at least another day.
On Tongatapu, at least, life is slowly returning to normal. The tsunami that swept over coastal areas after the eruption was frightening for many but rose only about 80 centimeters (2.7 feet), allowing most to escape.