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Sigh of relief as first aid reaches Tonga; telephone lines partially restored

HMAS Adelaide embarks Australian Army CH-47 Chinook Heavy-Lift Helicopters before departing the port of Brisbane for Tonga to assist in relief efforts, January 19, 2022. Australian Department of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

Quartermaster Leading Seaman Boatswains Mate Edmund Tomsana, Navigating Officer Lieutenant Commander John Miller and helmsman Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Elijan Dau work on the bridge of HMAS Adelaide, as the ship sails into Brisbane harbour before leaving for Tonga to assist in relief efforts, January 19, 2022. Australian Department of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

On Thursday, the first aircraft bringing first aid supplies arrived in Tonga, five days after the South Pacific island nation was devastated by a volcano explosion and tsunami that destroyed towns and contaminated 95 per cent of the country’s drinking water.

The news: After a covering of volcanic ash was lifted off the runway, a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules landed in Tonga’s Fua’amotu International Airport, according to a defence spokesperson.

  • A military transport plane from Australia, the Globemaster, also landed.
  • In a statement Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton mentioned that the C-17A flight was made possible by Tongan authorities’ relentless efforts to clear a thick covering of volcanic ash from the runway.
  • The plane was laden with supplies like as water desalination equipment, shelter, kitchens, and a sweeper to help clear ash from the airport. On Thursday, a second Australian plane was scheduled to take off.
  • According to Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, the New Zealand aircraft was carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief materials, including kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family packs, and communications equipment.
  • To guarantee that Tonga remains clear of the coronavirus, the supplies brought in by both flights were delivered without contact.
A general view shows damaged buildings following volcanic eruption and tsunami, in Nuku’alofa, Tonga in this picture obtained from social media on January 20, 2022. Courtesy of Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.

What happened: At least three people were killed when the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday, sending tsunami waves crashing across the archipelago, destroying communities, resorts, and many structures, and knocking off communications for the nation of around 105,000 people.

  • The archipelago’s lone underwater communications cable was restored late on Wednesday, but the owner of the archipelago’s only subsea communications cable estimated that restoring full internet services would take a month or more.
  • Tongans were clearing up the dust after the volcanic eruption but were concerned about running out of drinking water. Each residence has its own water supply tank, but most of them are packed with dust, making it unsafe to drink.
Supplies intended as relief material are prepared to be sent to Tonga by the Australian Red Cross, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia January 19, 2022 in this still image taken from video obtained by Reuters. Carolyn Varley/Australian Red Cross/Handout via REUTERS

What’s going on: New Zealand is sending two ships, one of which will transport 250,000 litres of water as well as desalination equipment capable of producing 70,000 litres per day.

  • This ship is scheduled to arrive on Friday, while the other is scheduled to arrive on Thursday to inspect the port of Tonga’s maritime channels and wharf approaches.
  • On Friday, an Australian ship will set off.
  • Tongans living overseas were urgently contacting home to check on their loved ones.
The first aircraft carrying humanitarian supplies arrived in Tonga on Thursday, five days after the South Pacific island nation was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated communities and spoiled most of its drinking water. 

What they’re saying: After gaining contact with his family, Fatafehi Fakafanua, the speaker of Tonga’s legislative assembly, who was in New Zealand when the disaster happened, said, “It was quite reassuring to hear from them.”

  • “They’re in good shape… Because of the ash, the government has encouraged them to consume bottled water, cover up when outside, and use masks.”
  • According to the United Nations, the crisis has affected approximately 84,000 people, or more than 80 per cent of the population, with potable water being “the most life-saving concern,” according to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted around 40 miles (65 kilometres) from the Tongan capital, causing a 2,300-kilometer (1,400-mile) blast audible in New Zealand.

The outer Ha’apai island group was slammed by waves up to 15 metres (49 feet), demolishing all of the dwellings on the island of Mango, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, where 56 residences were demolished or severely damaged, according to the prime minister’s office.

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