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Aerial images offer first glimpse of Tonga after volcano eruption and tsunami, death toll up to 3

Tonga Volcano Eruption
Posted at 11:33 AM, Jan 18, 2022

Aerial images show the devastation in Tonga left behind after a violent offshore volcanic eruption sparked a tsunami and clouded the sky with ash.

Communications with the island nation have largely been cut off since Saturday's eruption, leaving the world in the dark about potential casualties or damages.

In recent days, aerial recon missions carried out by nearby Australia and New Zealand offer the first glimpse of the severity of the situation.

Images show a thick layer of dark gray volcanic ash covering the once-lush green island. The surrounding waters also appear to be filled with ash, sparking concerns about the availability of clean drinking water on the island.

Tonga, before and after eruption
This combination of the satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies shows a view of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano in Tonga on April 10, 2021, top, on Jan. 6, 2022, middle, and Jan. 18, 2022, showing what’s left after the Jan. 15 eruption. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC, the Tongan government released a statement Tuesday — its first since Saturday's eruption — calling the incident an "unprecedented disaster."

The government also confirmed that at least three people have died due to the eruption and resulting tsunami. Among those killed was a 65-year-old female from Mango Island, a 49-year-old male from Nomuka Island and a British woman who was in the country at the time of the eruption.

The country's statement also noted that one other person reported missing had been found.

It's still unclear how many people were injured.

Tonga, before and after eruption
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC, shows an overview of Kanokupolu in Tongatapu, Tonga on Jan. 14, 2022, top, and on Jan. 16, 2022 after the Jan. 15 eruption. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

According to CNN, the blast on Saturday was likely the most violent eruption the world has seen in three decades. Following the explosion, tsunami advisories briefly went out across the Pacific Rim from Japan to Southern California to South America.

"The eruption was very powerful. There are reports it was heard as far as Alaska," Wendy K. Stovall, a member of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, told KPIX-TV in San Francisco.