'Hugely concerning': PM says NZ ready to help Tonga

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that images of the volcanic eruption in Tonga are "hugely concerning" and agencies are trying to establish full communications with the Pacific island kingdom.

A tsunami hit Tonga when underwater volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai erupted for eight minutes, throwing clouds of ash into the sky about 6pm on Saturday (NZ time).

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Communications in all of Tonga have been cut off as a result of Saturday's eruption, making any assessment difficult, Ardern said, but the Defence Force and Foreign Ministry were working to establish what's needed and how New Zealand can help.

There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, but communication with the island is very limited and local mobile phones were not working, Ardern told media this afternoon. 

The undersea cable has been affected, probably because of power cuts, and authorities are trying urgently to restore communications. Authorities are still trying to make communication with some of the smaller islands, she said.

Ash has stopped falling in Nuku'alofa, she said. A significant clean-up will be needed and a priority is the supply of water for Tonga.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a significant clean-up will be needed in Tonga. "We want to...
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a significant clean-up will be needed in Tonga. "We want to make sure we're on the ground as soon as possible." Image: RNZ

The Tongan government has accepted a New Zealand Government offer for a reconnaissance flight, and an Orion will take off tomorrow morning, provided conditions allow. At present, ash has been spotted at 63,000 feet.

The Government also announced a $500,000 donation which was very much a starting point, and more funds would be provided as required.

A naval vessel has also been put on standby to assist, if necessary.

"[There is] an urgency here. We want to make sure we're on the ground as soon as possible, but for our Navy vessels it will take several days to reach Tonga, and we need to finely balance the need to get there quickly but to make sure we also get the people and resources they need there as well and in some cases, we have parts of Tonga where we just haven't been able to establish communication."

Ardern said she had been in touch with Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison so that both governments can work in tandem in their response.

She said she has not been able to speak to the Tongan Prime Minister because communications are so difficult.

"At the moment we are mainly receiving information from our High Commission ...unfortunately from the outer islands we don't have a lot of information."

If necessary, New Zealand would help with any repairs that may be needed on the undersea cable that carries communications.

Defence Force Minister Peeni Henare said it's not known yet what has happened under the water. A New Zealand hydrographic vessel may be able to head to Tonga.

"Our people are ready to deploy. We just have to make sure they are fitted out with what the Tongan people need."

Pacific Affairs Minister Aupito William Sio said the Tongan Consul General Lenisiloti Sitafooti Aho has confirmed that Tonga's Royal family are safe.

Tsunami alert lifted for NZ areas

The tsunami warning issued in New Zealand following the Tonga volcanic eruption has been cancelled.

Civil Defence issued the National Advisory: Tsunami Activity for coastal areas on the north and east coast of the North Island, the Chatham Islands and the west coast of the South Island after the large eruption at Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'pai.

The beach and marine threat has now passed for all areas, it said in a statement.

This was based on advice from GNS Science, and based on ocean observations.

Civil Defence said strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges will continue for up to another 24 hours in some locations around the entire country.

It urged people to remain vigilant and take extra precautions with regards to beach and ocean activities.

The threat of further tsunamis for other Pacific nations has also passed, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) said.

The centre said the threat had receded but coastal areas should remain alert for strong or unusual currents.

The US and Japan earlier warned people to move away from coastal areas.

But while further tsunamis may be unlikely, there are mounting fears over how badly Tonga has been hit.

Boats were damaged at Tūtūkākā Marina in Far North overnight after strong tidal surges. Photo:...
Boats were damaged at Tūtūkākā Marina in Far North overnight after strong tidal surges. Photo: Supplied via RNZ

Boats damaged in Far North

Large waves in New Zealand's Far North forced 120 people to be evacuated from late on Saturday as big swells from Cyclone Cody and the surge from Tonga's volcanic eruption begin to affect the country.

Cody was expected to bring gale force winds and large swells to the eastern coast of the North Island over the next few days.

Police said they received a number of reports regarding tidal surges from people based in the Far North between 11pm and 12am, including Te Rere Bay and Shipwreck Bay.

Police, Fire and Coastguard also assisted with evacuations of boats moored at Tuakaka Marina last night.

A number of boats and moorings were damaged by large waves washing ashore.

A camp site at Mahinepua Bay was also inundated, about 50 people were in the camp at the time and all were accounted for.

A Tutukaka resident told The New Zealand Herald that his boat and many others had been completely destroyed - and he was concerned there had been no civil defence alert beyond the general warning put out earlier.

"Multiple boats have been destroyed. The wave cleared the breakwater which is around 2.0m higher than the high tide line. There was absolutely no civil defence warning, no tsunami siren activated and no phone notifications."

He had seen a notice in the news earlier but took little notice, he said.

"We have had multiple tsunami alerts which has triggered the alarm system and boats have been completely fine."

He was concerned for the safety of those who lived on their boats in the marina.

A number of people on social media are also reporting they did not get a civil defence alert to their phones prior to the surge.

- RNZ and NZ Herald 

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