Tonga death toll: Three dead after eruption and tsunami, UN says

Three people have died following the eruption in Tonga on Saturday, according to the United Nations’ co-ordinator in the Pacific.

Fiji-based UN co-ordinator Jonathan Veitch said two deaths were confirmed but there were still parts of Tonga where communication remained difficult or non-existent.

Veitch confirmed one of the fatalities was British woman Angela Glover, who was reported by her family to have been killed by the tsunami in Nuku’alofa.

Glover is thought to have died trying to rescue her dogs at the animal charity she ran.

Veitch told RNZ full information from some islands – such as the Ha’apai group – was not available.

“We know that the Tonga Navy has gone there and we expect to hear back soon.”

The communication situation was “absolutely terrible”.

“I have worked in a lot of emergencies but this is one of the hardest in terms of communicating and trying to get information from there. With the severing of the cable that comes from Fiji they’re just cut off completely. We’re relying 100 per cent on satellite phones.

“We’ve been discussing with New Zealand and Australia and UN colleagues … and we hope to have this [cable] back up and running relatively soon, but it’s been a bit of a struggle.”

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano, which erupted on Saturday, is about 65km north of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa

Serious damage has been reported from the west coast of Tongatapu and a state of emergency has been declared.

Earlier today, New Zealand’s Acting High Commissioner for Tonga, Peter Lund, told Tagata Pasifika that there were unconfirmed reports of up to three deaths following the weekend’s eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and the resulting tsunami.

“I understand, talking to our police advisor this morning, unconfirmed reports of up to three fatalities, but that is not yet confirmed.”

Speaking to the news outlet from Nuku’alofa via satellite phone, Lund said there was a huge clean-up operation underway in the area after the town had been blanketed in a thick film of volcanic dust.

Meanwhile, the United Nations say a distress signal has been detected in an isolated group of islands in the Tonga archipelago following Saturday’s volcanic eruption and tsunami, prompting particular concern for its inhabitants.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there had been no contact from the Ha’apai group of islands and there was “particular concern” about two small low-lying islands – Fonoi and Mango, where an active distress beacon had been detected.

According to the Tonga government, 36 people live on Mango and 69 on Fonoi.

– additional reporting RNZ

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