At least 10 popular resorts in Tonga’s main island group have been completely obliterated or damaged from the devastating tsunami that swamped the nation on Saturday.
The tsunami was sparked by the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai underwater volcano, about 60km from Tonga’s western point.
The massive eruption was heard more than 700km away in Fiji and sent shock waves that were detected around the globe in places as far away as Alaska.
So far, the death toll from the disaster stands at three, including British national Angela Glover, 50, who was swept away by the tsunami while trying to save her dogs.
Postcard destinations destroyed in seconds
Tonga’s western tip of the island, the Hihifo district, was home to some of the nation’s most popular resort destinations, visited by thousands of tourists from abroad in pre-pandemic years.
Stunning photos of Ha’atafu Beach Resort before January 15 show postcard-worthy scenes of white beaches and tall palm trees, sunsets and the aqua-blue Pacific Ocean.
Now, tragically, nothing remains. It’s often said that buildings are reduced to rubble, but in the case of the 1.2m tsunami wave, not even rubble remained.
Photos taken in the aftermath show the usually pristine beaches tarred with ash. The only proof the surf resort ever existed are several concrete slabs on the ground.
Ha’atafu Beach Resort confirmed there were guests staying there at the time, and said there was only “10 to 15 minutes” between the volcano erupting and the tsunami hitting.
“Ha’atafu Beach Resort is now unrecognisable and it’s a miracle everyone got out to safety,” a Facebook post from the business said.
“Mo, Hola and the kids managed to get all the guests out safely, however this meant they had no time to save anything at all. They had to flee through the back of the resort through the bushes to get to safety."
They wrote the staff, some of whom live on site, have nothing left “but their clothes they wore on Saturday”.
A GoFundMe page for the resort has raised close to $100,000.
Other neighbouring resorts, including Vakaloa Beach Resort, Holty’s Hideaway, Blue Banana Beach House and Liku’alofa Beach Resort are believed to also be completely destroyed.
Resorts on Tongatapu’s surrounding islands were also ravaged by the tsunami, with unconfirmed reports accomodation on both Atata and Pangaimotu islands have been flattened.
Fafa Island Resort, a four-star resort on a private island a short boat ride away from Nuku’alofa, was damaged and parts of the property washed away.
Taking to Instagram to share satellite photos of the damage, resort management said they’d never seen anything like it in 40 years of operation.
“Looking at these photos it is hard to know what is damaged, destroyed or still standing but covered in ash, but it does appear the structures on the western side of the island have all been claimed by the ocean,” the post read.
The owners said they remain hopeful the island can be restored to the “idyllic paradise” it once was.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.