Dramatic photos show horrific aftermath of massive Tonga eruption and tsunami

Nomuka island is covered in ash in this aerial photo taken after a massive volcanic eruption.
Nomuka island is covered in ash in this aerial photo taken after a massive volcanic eruption. (Image credit: New Zealand Defense Force via Getty Images)

New aerial photos show a blanket of dust and ash covering the Pacific nation of Tonga following a massive underwater volcanic eruption. 

On Saturday (Jan. 15), the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Tonga's Fonuafo'ou island, erupted in what may have been the largest eruption on the planet in three decades, according to CNN. The massive eruption triggered a tsunami, which hit Tonga's Tongatapu island and formed a giant ash cloud that turned the sky dark and covered Tonga's many islands in ash. 

Aerial photo of Nomuka covered in ash following the massive underwater volcano eruption. (Image credit: New Zealand Defense Force via Getty Images)

The new aerial photos, which were taken by a surveillance flight and released by the New Zealand Defence Force Monday (Jan. 17), reveal layers of ash and dust covering trees and houses. The images also show areas that flooded as a result of the tsunami triggered by the eruption.

Related: Photos: Hawaii's new underwater volcano

The photos are some of the first images of the damage released following those of the eruption itself, which sent ash, steam and gas 12.4 miles (20 km) high, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This recent eruption was seven times more powerful than the previous eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano, on Dec. 20, 2021.

Damage to an undersea cable severed communication lines with Tonga, making it difficult to analyze the extent of the damage, according to Reuters. The eruption and tsunami destroyed every home on Mango island, one of Tonga's smaller outer islands, according to the office of Tonga's prime minister. Some of the other islands also had extreme damage, and three people have been reported dead so far.

Tonga's main airport, Fua'amotu International, wasn't damaged, but it is covered in ash and is closed as efforts to manually clean it are underway, according to Reuters. Cleanup and evacuation efforts are in progress throughout Tonga, according to The New York Times, but the giant ash cloud over the airport and the severed communication lines are hindering international efforts to deliver help and aid, according to The New York Times.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.