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Tsunami causes water crisis in Tonga; New Zealand to the rescue  

FILE PHOTO: A general view from a New Zealand Defence Force P-3K2 Orion surveillance flight shows heavy ash fall over Nomuka in Tonga after the Pacific island nation was hit by a tsunami triggered by an undersea volcanic eruption January 17, 2022. New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

HMAS Adelaide departs Fleet Base East at Garden Island, Sydney, Australia, for Brisbane in preparation to provide disaster relief and assistance to Tonga January 17, 2022. Australian Department of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

Two New Zealand naval ships will arrive in Tonga on Friday with essential water supplies for the Pacific island nation, which has been cut off from the rest of the world due to a volcano eruption and tsunami.

The news: Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outlying islands have been damaged, and at least three people have died as a result of Saturday’s massive eruption, which generated tsunami waves that poured over the islands, inflicting an unprecedented calamity.

  • With its airport engulfed in volcanic ash and communications severely impeded by the loss of an undersea cable, reconnaissance planes have been the primary source of information on the extent of the disaster.
  • The Red Cross experts in Tonga had determined that salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash had contaminated tens of thousands of people’s drinking water supplies.
  • In a statement, Katie Greenwood, the Pacific head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, “Securing access to safe drinking water is a crucial immediate priority… as there is an increasing risk of diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.”
HMNZS Aotearoa departs to provide disaster relief and assistance to Tonga after a volcanic eruption and tsunami, from Auckland, New Zealand, January 18, 2022, in this still image taken from video. New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

What happened: With a boom audible 2,300 kilometres (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted, sending tsunami waves over the Pacific Ocean.

  • The force of the explosion was predicted to be similar to five to ten megatons of TNT, according to James Garvin, head scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which is more than 500 times the nuclear weapon unleashed on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War Two.
  • Tonga has accepted the entrance of the HMNZS Aotearoa and the HMNZS Wellington in the COVID-free nation, where fears of a possible coronavirus outbreak are expected to hinder rescue efforts.
HMNZS Aotearoa departs to provide disaster relief and assistance to Tonga after a volcanic eruption and tsunami, from Auckland, New Zealand, January 18, 2022, in this still image taken from video. New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

What they’re saying: The skipper of the Aotearoa, Simon Griffiths, said his ship was carrying 250,000 litres of water and could manufacture another 70,000 litres each day, as well as other supplies.

  • “We’re going their way now with a whole lot of water for the people of Tonga,” Griffiths said in a statement.

Other governments and organisations, such as the United Nations, are developing plans to assist.

  • When the archipelago’s main Fua’amotu International Airport reopens, a Chinese foreign ministry official said the country would send assistance, including water and food. It was not damaged, although it was covered with ash that had to be painstakingly removed.
  • “We assumed it would be operational yesterday,” Jonathan Veitch, a United Nations co-ordinator based in Fiji, said on Wednesday. “But it hasn’t been entirely cleaned yet because additional ash has been falling.”

What’s going on: Fiji will send defence engineers on Australia’s HMAS Adelaide, which is scheduled to depart Brisbane for Tonga on Friday, according to a Fiji military official speaking at a briefing in Suva.

  • The outer Ha’apia island group was pounded by waves up to 15 metres high, demolishing all of the structures on the island of Mango as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, according to the prime minister’s office.
  • Residents on Tongatapu’s west coast were being relocated to evacuation centres after 56 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
  • Power has been restored in New Zealand, and clean-up and damage assessments are underway, with Tongan officials providing relief materials.
  • Australia and New Zealand have pledged financial support right away. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has allocated $100,000 in emergency aid to help people harmed by volcanic eruptions and tsunami waves.
  • The Asian Development Bank was negotiating with Tonga whether it could declare a state of emergency in order to access a $10 million disaster finance programme.
  • After the volcano severed the only undersea fiber-optic communication cable, Tonga is still entirely offline.
  • According to the New Zealand foreign ministry, international mobile phone network provider Digicel has built up an interim system on Tongatapu utilising the satellite dish of the University of the South Pacific.
  • This would allow a 2G link to be built, but the connection is spotty and only provides around 10 per cent of the regular bandwidth, according to US cable operator SubCom. Tonga’s line will be restored in at least four weeks, it added.
  • Tongan communities throughout the world have shared photographs from their families on Facebook, showing the destruction, which includes homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks, and everything covered in grey ash.
  • To prevent transmitting the coronavirus, humanitarian organisations, including the United Nations, are planning to send relief flights to Tonga without employees who disembark.

Tonga is one of the only countries without COVID-19, and an outbreak there would be terrible, according to him.

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