Tongan officials have revealed just how devastating the weekend's volcanic eruption and tsunami were.
The Tongan Government late last night called the events on Saturday evening an "unprecedented disaster".
"As a result of the eruption, a volcanic mushroom plume was released reaching the stratosphere and extending radially covering all Tonga islands, generating tsunami waves rising up to 15 metres, hitting the west coasts of Tongatapu Islands, ʻEua and Haʻapai Islands," said the first update from the island kingdom.
Aid from New Zealand left on Navy ships yesterday, as aircraft are not yet able to land on the main airport runway because of ash.
It is expected to open some time tomorrow morning - allowing RNZAF aircraft to bring in essential items and for aid to land safely.
Defence Minister Peeni Henare spoke of the lengths members of the public have gone to, to help clear the runway.
"The people in Tonga are, in some parts, sweeping the runway by hand, so it's taken a bit of time," he told Newstalk ZB's Tim Dower this morning.
Tongan officials confirmed three deaths have been reported and a number of people were injured.
The first fatality reported was British woman Angela Glover, 50, who ran an animal rescue charity and tattoo business with her husband James on the main island of Tongatapu.
Glover and her husband were well known and loved by locals. The couple had returned to a property they were house-sitting when they were swept away in the tsunami.
Glover's husband James, who held on to a tree, survived. His wife's body was later found.
A 65-year-old woman from Mango Island and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka Island, also died, the statement said.
Tonga's maritime force deployed a patrol vessel the day after the eruption and first responders included a health team and other experts sent to the 'Otumu'omu'a group in the group of islands of Ha'apai.
Severe damage on outer islands - all homes on Mango Island destroyed
Crew members were equipped with relief items including water, food and tents.
Because of what was described as "the severity" of the damage seen there, the patrol vessel was sent again yesterday with another health team, more resources and emergency responders to Mango, Fonoifua and Nomuka islands.
"The first consignment is headed for these islands as all houses were destroyed on Mango island; only two houses remain on Fonoifua island with extensive damage on Nomuka island," the media release said.
Water supplies, communications infrastructure and sea transport are also affected.
Evacuations of some smaller islands - Mango, Fonoifua, Nomuka and 'Atatā - have also begun; with people being transported back to the main island of Tongatapu.
The damage caused on the western side of that big island was also outlined by Tongan authorities.
In Kanokupolu, 21 homes were completely destroyed and 35 "severely damaged" on Saturday.
People in that village have been evacuated as a result; taken to evacuation centres and supplied with necessary relief items by the Tongan Government.
In the central district, Kolomotu'a reported eight houses destroyed and 20 severely damaged.
While two houses on nearby 'Eua island were destroyed and 45 badly damaged.
Royal NZ Navy ships due to be in Tonga for up to 10 days
Navy ships from New Zealand supplying aid and essential equipment to Tonga are expected to stay there for about 10 days.
The vessels left for the island kingdom yesterday, despite there being no official request from the Tongan Government for help. It takes three days to travel to the island nation.
Minister of Defence Peeni Henare said officials there had given permission for crews from New Zealand to arrive.
However, the risk of Covid being brought to the country - which remains Covid-free - meant there was a delay as NZ authorities did not want to "just steam in there".
"They want to do the best they can to protect their community," Henare told Newstalk ZB.
HMNZS Wellington, which sailed from Auckland's Devonport Naval Base yesterday, has personnel, equipment and supplies to help those on the ground.
The ship is also carrying divers and hydrographers from HMNZS Matataua to survey shipping channels and ports. It also has a Seasprite helicopter on board to help with supply delivery, the NZ Defence Force said yesterday.
HMNZS Aotearoa was also expected to leave yesterday - taking much-needed water and humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies.
Henare said more aid would be sent via RNZAF Orion and Hercules aircraft once the airport runway on the main island of Tongatapu was cleared.
In a late night social media post yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she could only imagine the anxiety people were feeling for family in Tonga, and New Zealand would be doing all it could to support the relief efforts.