Observers flying near the area of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai (about 62 km NNW of Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga) on 16 or 17 March reported seeing an eruption. Photos showed an eruption plume with a wide base that rose from the sea surface and mixed with meteorological clouds. Based on information from the Tonga airport and analysis of satellite imagery, the Wellington VAAC reported that on 18 March, a plume rose to altitudes of 4.6-7.6 km (15,000-25,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted NE.
The AFP reported that a volcanic eruption near the South Pacific nation of Tonga has destroyed rich birdlife and vegetation, leaving a wasteland of black ash and tree stumps.
Radio journalist George Lavaka visited the island Thursday and said the explosions were accompanied by a deep rumbling. “The island itself is totally destroyed,” Lavaka said, “there is no living thing left there, it’s all covered in black ash. “There are only black stumps where the coconut trees were,” he added. “We saw dead birds and fish in the water.”
Tonga’s chief geologist Kelepi Mafi, who inspected the area Thursday, said the volcano has two vents, one on Hunga Ha’apai and another around 100 metres offshore. The volume of the rock and ash coming from the vents has completely filled the gap between the offshore vent and Hunga Ha’apai, increasing the island’s land mass by hundreds of square metres.
Sources: Steven Gates and Keizo Gates, Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) , AFP – (Some reports are provided courtesy of the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program and the US Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program.)