There have been no official reports from Tonga of casualties or deaths among its 100,000 residents. Communications, however, remain patchy with much of the information aggregated so far from satellite-internet and phone connections to embassies and with Tonga’s diaspora in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere. Images provided by Taukolo Matekitonga, a Tongan resident of Sydney, showed families sleeping under makeshift shelters after evacuating inland.
Residents of Tongatapu—home to most of Tonga’s people as well as the Tongan monarchy’s waterfront palace, embassies and resorts—recounted a deafening sound from the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano about 43 miles to its north. Soon the sky darkened, heralding the ash that would blanket the archipelago. Not long after, tsunami waves started to crash ashore, carrying away vehicles and inundating seafront properties, videos showed.
“It really popped our eardrums and everyone froze,” said Nightingale Filihia in a video posted to Facebook before Tonga’s internet connection with the world was severed. “Everyone froze in town and we were like—what the heck is that and then it just went pitch black,” she said.