Governments and aid agencies are trying to determine the extent of the disaster amid ‘challenging’ communications links.
There are reports of ‘significant damage’ in parts of the Pacific island nation of Tonga following Saturday’s massive volcanic eruption and tsunami with New Zealand and Australia preparing to send humanitarian aid amid limited international communications.
New Zealand said a reconnaissance flight on Monday showed heavy loads covering the runway of the main airport in Nuku’alofa, which will have to be cleaned up before auxiliary flights can start.
The Tongan government said work was continuing by hand and could be completed by Wednesday.
“New Zealand is ready to help Tonga,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a joint statement with Defense Minister Peeni Henare, adding that footage of the flight was also with the authorities. shared in Tonga “to help decide which support is most needed”.
Southeast People, an underwater volcano, erupted on Saturday sparking tsunami warnings across the Pacific. The eruption was the largest since Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 with the catastrophic explosion heard in Fiji more than 750 km (466 miles) away.
The eruption sent a huge cloud of ash and smoke into the air, breaking Tonga’s only submarine communications cable, hampering efforts to determine the extent of the disaster.
Henare said given the “challenging” communication situation, New Zealand decided to deploy two naval vessels – loaded with drinking water and other necessities – so that they would be ready if the Tongan government requested assistance.
The vessels, one of which also carried recording and diving crews and a helicopter, left New Zealand on Tuesday afternoon for the three-day voyage. A C-130 Hercules transport aircraft is also on standby to provide relief.
“Water is at this stage one of the highest priorities for Tonga,” Hanare said. “HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 liters and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant.”
Australia, meanwhile, was preparing a ship for deployment from the east coast city of Brisbane.
– NZ Defense Force (@NZDefenceForce) 18 January 2022
The New Zealand High Commissioner in Tonga said earlier that “significant damage”On the west coast of the country, an area known for being home to several resorts, as well as on the waterfront of the capital, Nuku’alofa.
The Tongan navy has reported significant damage in the Ha’apai Islands with the tsunami estimated to be between five and 10 meters high and moving as far as 500 meters inland.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said observational flights had confirmed “significant damage to property” on the remote island of Mango, home to just over 30 people, and Fonoi, another island with about double the population
“An active emergency beacon has been detected from Mango,” the OCHA agency said in an urgent report.
In a Tuesday update, the New Zealand aid organization, the Council for International Development, said power and local cellular networks in Tongatapu had been restored, although the connection was not yet stable.
One British woman who was swept away when she tried to save her dogs has been confirmed dead, British media said, referring to her brother. There have been no other reports of injuries or death so far.
Tonga is home to more than 100,000 people living on more than 30 inhabited islands.