A common Pacific myth tells us that Oceania’s many islands were either ‘fished up’ from the seas or ‘thrown down’ from the heavens. The undersea Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano, which erupted with such force on 15th January, fits both stories. It was raised up when a relatively small 2015 eruption left layers of ash that formed a land platform joining the islands of Hunga-Tonga and Hunga-Ha'apai. The freshly combined islandsthen expanded in size in early 2021 while magma filled the craters below the surface, but now, with the volcano having unleashed its wrath, the land bridge has collapsed beneath the waves leaving the two now much shrunken islands again separated: fished up and then cast down.
After the eruption, a mushroom cloud of gas rose 30 kilometres into the atmosphere. It was visible from space. 400,000 lightning bolts pierced the sky as ash and atmospheric ice collided generating electrical charges. Magma blasts full of volcanic gas sent sound waves rippling outwards at supersonic speeds. These could be heard as far afield as Alaska. The resulting tsunami swept across the Pacific Ocean hitting the coasts of the Americas, New Zealand and Japan. On Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, British women Angela Glover, owner of a dog sanctuary, was carried away in the rising seas as she tried to rescue her animals. Two further deaths have since been reported in the Ha’apai Islands. Another two people were drowned in Northern Peru.