Nomuka Island after the eruption. Aerial photograph taken from a New Zealand air force plane.
The week that Tonga went silent.
I have visited Tonga several times, and have always been impressed and amazed by the industry of the women. In Vava'u, a woman is recreating old forest and old arts. Women are behind the burgeoning vanilla industry. In the capital, Nuku'alofa, women are running a wonderful crafts initiative, with its fascinating shop.
Tonga -- like many Pacific islands -- is vulnerable to climatic events. While it is famous for whale watching, it is also prone to hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. But the latest eruption was more devastating than most.
In the late afternoon on January 15, four explosions rocked the entire archipelago, the air stank of sulphur, and the sky rained stones. The smell of sulphur was not new, as the volcano at the twin island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai - which lies just 65km from Nuku’alofa - had been simmering for some time. But the explosions heralded a very different situation. So powerful that the impact was recorded 2,000 km away, in New Zealand, they triggered a tsunami that hit Tonga that was estimated as 15 metres high.
Ash and stones rained from the sky, which had turned utterly black. "Pray for Tonga," wrote a journalist.
The prayer was heard in New Zealand, where there is a large Tongan population, but no one could get in touch with family, because all internet connection was lost. Later, it was found that the undersea cables that linked the islands with the outer world were broken. A plane was sent, but it was impossible to land, as the runway was smothered in debris. It turned around, but not before disturbing aerial photographs had been taken. There were places where the devastation was major.