After Tonga’s major airport runway was cleansed of ash left by a massive volcanic eruption, the first aircraft bearing fresh water and other help landed on Thursday.
Water containers, temporary shelter kits, generators, hygiene supplies, and communications equipment were all provided by military cargo planes from New Zealand and Australia. A special sweeper was also on board the Australian jet to assist keep the runway free.
The packages were delivered without the military soldiers coming into contact with anyone at the Tonga airport. That’s because Tonga is keen to avoid bringing the coronavirus into the country. It has not had any COVID-19 outbreaks and has only recorded one case since the epidemic began.
The commander of New Zealand’s Joint Forces, Rear Admiral James Gilmour, said Tongan forces made a “mammoth effort” to “clean that runway by hand.” This afternoon, they’ve accomplished that.”
The funding, according to Australia, will assist Tonga’s government in meeting community needs and supporting emergency clean-up activities.
Japan has also stated that it will provide emergency supplies, including as drinking water and equipment for removing volcanic ash. The Defense Ministry said two C-130 Hercules planes and a transport vessel carrying two CH-47 Chinook helicopters will leave probably Thursday.
Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s defense minister, told reporters that his ministry “would do everything we can” to help Tonga’s catastrophe victims.
According to U.N. humanitarian experts, the volcano’s eruption has affected around 84,000 people, or more than 80% of Tonga’s population, according to U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, citing three fatalities, injuries, home loss, and tainted water as examples.
The only fiber-optic connection that connects Tonga to the rest of the globe appears to have been severed by Saturday’s eruption and tsunami, limiting communications with the country. As a result, most individuals have been unable to use the internet or make international phone calls, however some local phone networks remain operational.
Digicel, a phone carrier, announced on Thursday that it had restored the ability to make international calls from select locations using a satellite link, but that users would have to wait owing to heavy demand. It stated that it planned to improve its service in the next days.
A New Zealand navy patrol ship is also slated to arrive later Thursday. It’s carrying divers and hydrographic equipment, as well as a helicopter to help transport supplies.
The ship’s first mission, according to officials, will be to inspect shipping lanes and the structural condition of the dock in Nuku’alofa, the capital, following the eruption and tsunami.
Another naval ship from New Zealand is on its way, carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of water. A desalination unit on board the ship can create tens of thousands of liters of fresh water every day.
Tsunami waves wreaked havoc on three of Tonga’s smaller islands, according to officials and the Red Cross.
“All dwellings have reportedly been demolished on the island of Mango, and only two houses remain on Fonoifua island, with severe damage reported on Nomuka,” said Dujarric of the United Nations. People from the islands are being evacuated, he added.
According to Tongan census data, Mango has 36 residents, Fonoifua has 69, and Nomuka has 239 residents. The bulk of Tongans reside on Tongatapu, the main island, where around 50 dwellings were damaged.
Safe water, food, and non-food goods are among the most urgent humanitarian requirements, according to Dujarric, who also stated that restoring communication services, especially international calls and the internet, is a high priority.
Tonga has so far escaped the massive damage predicted by many.