Tonga’s fierce volcanic eruption disrupts flights across the South Pacific

A massive volcanic eruption in Tonga has caused flights from New Zealand and Australia and internal flights to be cancelled or diverted.

The eruption of Hunga volcano spewed large white plumes of ash high into the sky which could be seen clearly  from Tongatapu this afternoon.

Tongatapu, the main island in Tonga group, is about 60km away from the scene.

The Tongan government has warned people in the surrounding islands, especially Tongatapu and Ha’apai, that ash from the eruption could cause problems with breathing, skin and eyesight.

Some Tongans travelling from Australia were stuck in Auckland after their direct flight from Sydney to Tonga was redirected to Fiji to refuel before flying on to Auckland where it has been grounded until it is safe to complete the flight to Tonga.

In Fiji Tongans had to travel backwards and forwards between Suva and Nadi after several flights were cancelled because of the eruption.

Late last month the Tongan government said it had received a report by a fishing boat at Ha’apai of volcanic activity south east of Hunga Ha’apai on the morning of December 20.

Volcanic activity has continued since then, in this week’s eruption.

Paula Moimoi Latu, who was on a flight from Australia to Tonga, said on Facebook last night:  “I’m stuck in Auckland at the moment after almost landing in the Kingdom of Tonga yesterday. The flight was diverted to Samoa due to volcanic ash in the air, the aircraft refuelled and then took us back to Auckland last night. Now it seems today’s flight has been rescheduled and now cancelled! Might not get to Tonga until tomorrow!!”

Sina Taholo Kami in Fiji said in Tongan: “I boarded a bus eight hours to (Suva-Nadi-Suva) today to travel to Tonga but it was cancelled. Yes nature has taken charge!!

Yesterday she commented: “Just arrived Nadi airport. . .told the flight to Tonga…cancelled again”.

The New Zealand High Commission in Tonga has published a statement on the internet warning New Zealanders of the volcanic eruption:

“There is currently no seismic activity or tsunami threat associated with the eruption, however some international and domestic flights in Tonga have been cancelled due to the ash cloud.  We recommend that New Zealanders planning to travel to Tonga check with their airline for the latest information on further flight disruptions.”

The main points

  • A massive volcanic eruption in Tonga has caused flights from New Zealand and Australia and internal flights to be cancelled or diverted.
  • The eruption of Hunga volcano spewed large white plumes of ash high into the sky which could be seen clearly from Tongatapu this afternoon.
  • Some flights were diverted to Samoa and Fiji for refuelling, before being sent to Auckland.
  • New Zealanders planning to travel to Tonga have been warned to check on the latest information on the situation before travelling.

For more information

‘Air NZ flights hit by Tongan volcano ash’

‘Ash plume from underwater volcano off Tonga cancels flights and turns sea red’

‘Undersea eruption near Tonga’ (NASA Earth Observatory)

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