The body of a British woman has been recovered in Tonga after a volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami.
Meanwhile, the United Nations says a distress signal has been detected in an isolated, low-lying group of islands in the Tonga archipelago, prompting particular concern for its inhabitants.
Initial reports suggested no mass casualties on the main island of Togatapu. But two people were reported missing and the capital Nuku’alofa was badly damaged in Saturday’s event, as were resorts and homes along the island’s western beaches, it said.
“Further volcanic activity cannot be ruled out,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in the update on Monday, reporting only minor injuries but emphasising that formal assessments, especially of the outer islands, had yet to be released with communications badly hit.
The uninhabited volcanic island of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai all but disappeared following the blast, according to satellite images from around 12 hours later.
The Pacific archipelago was blanketed in ash and volcanic ash clouds spread to countries thousands of kilometres to the west.
The OCHA 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.
Experts said the volcano, which last erupted in 2014, had been puffing away for about a month before rising magma, superheated to about 1000 degrees, met with 20-degree seawater, causing an instantaneous and massive explosion.
Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance flights on Monday to assess damage. Australia’s Minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, said Australian police had visited beaches and reported significant damage with “houses thrown around”.
British woman Angela Glover, who ran a dog charity in Tonga, was killed.
Friends wrote on Facebook that the 50-year-old was swept away while she was trying to save dogs from the tsunami.
Ms Glover’s brother Nick Eleini said her body was found by her husband James.
“Angela was the heart of our family, she was the emotional heart of our family,” Mr Eleini told British media.
“I will miss her and I will think of her every day until the day I die. My mother is just broken at the moment, she is just absolutely shattered.”
South Pacific Animal Welfare remembered Ms Glover as a “selfless” co-founder of Tonga Animal Welfare Society.
“Angela was one of a kind. She loved animals, especially dogs, more than most people are capable of,” the group said.
Meanwhile, Australians with relatives in Tonga are still waiting for news about their families as internet and phone lines remain down.
International communication has been severely hampered by damage to an undersea cable, which could take more than a week to restore.
The Ha’atafu Beach Resort, on the Hihifo peninsula, 21 kilometres west of the capital Nuku’alofa, was “completely wiped out”, the owners said on Facebook.
The family that manages the resort ran for their lives through the bush to escape the tsunami, it said.
“The whole western coastline has been completely destroyed along with Kanukupolu village,” the resort said.
Katie Greenwood, the Pacific head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Reuters up to 80,000 people could have been affected by the tsunami.
The impact of the eruption was felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the US and Japan. Two people drowned off a beach in northern Peru due to high waves caused by the tsunami.
Tonga is COVID-free and has concerns about the risk of aid deliveries spreading the virus to the island. Any aid sent will need to be quarantined.