Wed, 31 May 2023

WASHINGTON - Australia and New Zealand sent military surveillance flights to the isolated Pacific island nation of Tonga Monday to assess the damage caused by a strong undersea volcanic eruption Saturday.

The eruption sent a huge cloud of ash over the island and triggered a tsunami that swept over Tonga's shoreline. Officials in Australia and New Zealand say they have received reports of significant damage to shops and houses along the shoreline from Tongans using satellite phone service.

Saturday's eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano severely damaged the single undersea fiber-optic cable that provides phone and Internet service to the island. Repairs to the cable could take anywhere from one to three weeks.

Tongan authorities say the volcanic ash has turned the air toxic and contaminated the island's fresh drinking water supplies, and are urging residents to wear masks and drink bottled water.

Authorities have also raised concerns about relief workers bringing COVID-19 into the island, which has so far avoided the disease.

The only confirmed apparent casualty in Tonga from Saturday's disaster is a British woman who was swept out to sea by the tsunami.

The eruption triggered tsunami warnings along much of the western United States coastline. Two people in Peru drowned due to high waves triggered by the tsunami.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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