After the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday, sending tsunami waves across the Pacific, the island nation of Tonga lost contact with the outside world. At least three people died. And many more suffered damage to their homes and businesses.
Now aircraft bearing humanitarian supplies from Australia, New Zealand and Japan are set to arrive in Tonga on Thursday. That’s after the tiny island nation of about 105,000 finally made contact with the outside world, Reuters reports.
Tonga, which has zero COVID-19 cases, has voiced concern that aid workers could expose the island’s population to the virus. So the delivery will be contact-free. And the aircraft will only be on the ground in Tonga for only about 90 minutes.
Tonga to Receive Humanitarian Aid Supplies Thursday
Australia’s Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, told Reuters his country is sending a Royal Australian Air Force airplane full of humanitarian supplies, including a sweeper to sweep ash from the airport runway. One has left Brisbane already. Another takes off later Thursday.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister said it is sending a C-130 Hercules from Auckland. The plane will land in Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, at about 4 p.m. local time.
“The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment,” Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement.
Japan is also sending relief supplies, such as drinking water and materials to clean up volcanic ash, via the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Phone Connections Coming Back, But Internet May Take Awhile
By late Wednesday, telephone lines were back up on the island. But the owner of Tonga’s only undersea communications cable said Internet connectivity may be out for a month or more before it comes back online.
The United Nations estimated that roughly 84,000 people are suffering in the aftermath of the natural disaster. The most urgent needs are clean water, food and personal care items.
“Water is really the biggest life‑saving issue,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. He added that they’re concerned about polluted water sources, and “water systems are down.”
Local journalist Marian Kupu told Reuters that Tongans are still trying to clean up all the dust from the volcano’s explosion. But they worry about running out of safe drinking water.
“I can say maybe we can survive for the next few weeks but I’m not sure about water,” she said. “Each home has their own tanks of water supply. But most of them are filled with dust. So it’s not safe for drinking.”
She added that villages on the Western side of Tonga took a serious hit. The Tongan government is reportedly now flying over the islands there to check on residents.