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  • Peggy Simonsen

Volcano devastates Tonga

TONGA underwater volcano eruption on January 14 and 15.

This eruption released a volcanic mushroom plume which reached the stratosphere and covered the whole Tongan archipelago, according to the government. It also triggered a huge l tsunami which hit the shores of Tongatapu shortly afterwards with waves rising to 15 meters! I read that all the homes on one of the islands were demolished.

This enormous volcano eruption in the Kingdom of Tonga reminded me of a wonderful sailing trip I took with my family in 2010. I chartered a bareboat (meaning we were the crew) as I wrote about in Wandering the World. It was a 40-foot monohull for six of us. We sailed from Vava’u to several islands in the Kingdom, anchoring offshore of mostly uninhabited islands at night.

My granddaughter was 8 and took to snorkeling with ease. The water was clear blue, the beaches white sand, and just enough wind to sail but calm along shore to kayak. On one island we attended a Tongan Feast with a dinner of local food, including a suckling pig and lots of veggies served on palm leaves instead of plates and we ate with our fingers. We were entertained by Tongan dancers-men doing war dances and women dancing like the hula with their grass skirts. The people aren’t rich but are comfortable, raising pigs (that wander around the towns), and growing their food, and of course have fruit right off the palm trees. They make beautiful crafts for income from tourists. I bought a stunning wall hanging of tapa cloth- bark layered and dyed in designs.

Now after the devastation of the eruption and tsunami, their lives have been turned upside down. There isn’t even a count of deaths yet because all the power and communication lines are gone. This event isn’t from climate change, but so many of the climate disruptions happening around the world are. Many of the island nations in the south Pacific will be similarly wiped out, with the inhabitants dislocated. We can’t stop volcanic eruptions but we can mitigate disasters that will be caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, if we only take it seriously. Having spent time in a faraway archipelago like the Kingdom of Tonga makes their destruction so much more real.

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