Volcanic ash delays aid to Tonga as scale of damage emerge

Thick ash on an airport runway was delaying aid deliveries to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, where significant damage was being reported days after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami.

New Zealand is preparing much-needed drinking water and other supplies, but said the ash on the runway will delay the flight at least a day.

A towering ash cloud since Saturday’s eruption had prevented earlier flights. Ash was also disrupting satellite calls, while communications remain limited due to the apparent severing of an undersea fiber-optic cable.

A British woman who was missing has been found dead, in the first reported fatality on Tonga.

In a Monday interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Curtis Tuihalangingie, Deputy Head of Mission of the Tongan High Commission, described the situation in Tonga as "not stable yet" and said they were able to speak with people on the island before communication went down.

"It’s something that they were not able to explain, the sound it’s huge and they never heard such a sound and this is the first time for, I think, most of people in Tonga to experience such a disaster," Tuihalangingie said.

Residents who got messages out to the world described a moonscape left by tsunami waves and volcanic ash fall.

The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano is located about 40 miles north of Tonga’s capital. A series of eruptions in 2014 and 2015 disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

The tsunami also crossed the Pacific, causing two deaths and an oil spill in Peru.