Help getting to Tonga when airport opens, phone lines partially restored

  • Tonga airport reopens after runway ash cleared
  • AU, NZ flights carrying aid en route to Nuku’alofa
  • Telephone contact with Tonga established 5 days after the outage
  • UN says 80% of Tonga’s population is severely affected
  • Tongans fear running out of drinking water

Jan 20 (Reuters) – Planes carrying much-needed humanitarian supplies from Australia and New Zealand will arrive in tsunami-hit Tonga on Thursday as the South Pacific island finally makes contact with the rest of the world after being cut for five days.

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said a Royal Australian Air Force plane loaded with humanitarian supplies and a sweeper to help clear ash from the airport runway had left Brisbane and another plane would depart later Thursday.

New Zealand’s foreign minister said its air force also sent a C-130 Hercules from Auckland, which will land in the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa around 4 p.m. New Zealand time.

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“The plane is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water tanks, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits and communications equipment” , Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement.

Delivery of supplies will be contactless and the plane is expected to remain grounded for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand, she said. Tonga is COVID-19 free and fears aid workers will bring the virus.

Japan said on Thursday it would send aid including drinking water and materials to clean up volcanic ash through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which killed at least three people, sent tsunami waves across the Pacific on Saturday, severely damaging villages, resorts and many buildings in Tonga and has cut off communications for the nation of about 105,000 people. people.

Telephone links between Tonga and the rest of the world were reconnected late Wednesday, although full restoration of internet connectivity is likely to take a month or more, according to the owner of the archipelago’s only undersea communications cable.

Speaking to Reuters from Nuku’alofa, local journalist Marian Kupu said Tongans were cleaning up all the dust from the volcanic eruption but feared they would run out of clean water.

“Each house has its own water supply tanks, but most of them are full of dust, so it’s not drinkable,” Kupu said.

A few villages on the western side of Tonga have been hit very hard, she said.

“I won’t say we expect more deaths, but as we speak the government is trying to fly to the other islands to check them out.”

When asked if there was enough food, she replied, “I can say that maybe we can survive for the next few weeks, but I’m not sure about the water.”

Meanwhile, Tongans overseas were frantically calling their families back home to ensure their safety.

“Today there is a sigh of relief as we can communicate with our loved ones back home,” said John Pulu, an Auckland-based Tongan who is a television and radio personality.

“We breathe and sleep a little better,” he said.


The United Nations said around 84,000 people – more than 80% of the population – were hard hit by the disaster.

“They were affected by the loss of homes, the loss of communication, what we understand is the problem of water,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

The most urgent humanitarian needs are drinking water, food and non-food items, he said.

“Water really is the biggest life-saving problem. Water sources have been polluted, water supply systems are broken.”

New Zealand said Tonga, one of the few countries to be coronavirus-free, had agreed to receive two of its ships carrying aid and supplies, despite concerns over an outbreak importing of COVID-19 which would make matters worse. Vaccination against the virus reaches 90% among Tongans.

The ships, which were carrying 250,000 liters of water along with other supplies, will arrive on Friday.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted about 40 miles (65 km) from Tonga’s capital with an explosion heard 2,300 km (1,400 miles) in New Zealand.

Waves of up to 15 meters (49ft) hit the outer Ha’apai group of islands, destroying all homes on Mango Island, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, where 56 houses were destroyed or badly damaged. , said the Prime Minister’s Office.

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Reporting by Praveen Menon and Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo; edited by Grant McCool, Michael Perry and Richard Pullin

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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