First flights carrying aid on their way to tsunami-stricken Tonga

First flights carrying aid are on their way to volcano and tsunami-stricken Tonga: Military planes leave Australia and New Zealand as Pacific nation reopens its airport after clearing it of ash

  • Aid agencies have warned Tonga is facing imminent water and food shortages
  • An Australian Globemaster aircraft left Brisbane this morning carrying aid
  • New Zealand’s Foreign Minister said its air force has also sent a C-130 Hercules 
  • The delivery of supplies will be contactless for Covid-19-free Tongans

The first humanitarian flights departed for Tonga early Thursday, carrying much needed aid supplies to the volcano and tsunami-devastated Pacific island nation. 

Fights departed from Australia and New Zealand after the runway on the Pacific island’s airport was cleared of ash, an Australian official said.

An Australian Globemaster aircraft left Brisbane this morning carrying aid, the official told Reuters news agency, confirming Tonga’s airport had opened.

The Australian High Commission in Tonga said on its Facebook page that Australia had provided AUD $1 million for the recovery effort, and two Royal Australian Air Force aircraft would arrive in Tonga today.

‘They are loaded with much-needed humanitarian supplies, as well as telecommunications equipment to help re-establish connectivity between the main island and remote islands,’ the statement said.

HMAS Adelaide will also set sail from Brisbane on Friday with water purification equipment and more humanitarian supplies, the statement said.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister said its air force has also sent a C-130 Hercules from Auckland which will land in Nuku’alofa at about 4 p.m. New Zealand time.

The first humanitarian flights departed for Tonga early Thursday, carrying much needed aid supplies to the volcano and tsunami-devastated Pacific island nation. Pictured: A helicopter on the deck of  HMAS Adelaide en route to Tonga on Wednesday

‘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.

The delivery of supplies will be contactless and the aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand, she said. Tonga is COVID-19 free and is concerned that aid personnel may bring the virus.

Aid agencies have warned that Tonga is facing imminent water and food shortages after crops and drinking sources were inundated with salt water and ash from the devastating volcanic explosion which triggered a 50ft tsunami.

Water which tens of thousands of people rely on to drink has been polluted, the Red Cross said on Wednesday, as Tonga’s parliamentary speaker added that ‘all agriculture’ on the islands has also been destroyed.

Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated in grey ash. 

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which has killed at least three people and sent tsunami waves across the Pacific, badly damaging villages, resorts and many buildings in Tonga.

It also knocked out communications of about 105,000 people on Saturday.

Pictured: Chinook Heavy-Lift Helicopters, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, before departing the port of Brisbane, Australia, to provide humanitarian assistance to the Government of Tonga

Telephone links between Tonga and the wider world began to be reconnected late on Wednesday, though restoring full internet connectivity is likely to take at least a  month according to the owner of the country’s sole subsea communications cable.

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

‘Each home has their own tanks of water supply but most of them are filled with dust so its not safe for drinking,’ Kupu said.

Kupu said a few villages on the Western side of Tonga were very badly hit.

‘I won’t say we are expecting more deaths but as we are speaking the government is trying to fly to the other islands to check over them,’ she said.

When asked if there was enough food supplies, she said: ‘I can say maybe we can survive for the next few weeks but I’m not sure about water.’

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

Pictures have emerged on social media showing the scale of the devastation in Tonga following the tsunami. The island nation is facing imminent water and food shortages after crops and drinking sources were inundated with salt water and ash from a devastating volcanic explosion which triggered a 50ft tsunami, aid agencies have warned

A man surveys the scene of devastation with debris strewn across the road in Tonga in the wake of the tsunami. Water which tens of thousands of people rely on to drink has been polluted, the Red Cross said today, as Tonga’s parliamentary speaker added that ‘all agriculture’ on the islands has also been destroyed

‘Today there’s a sigh of relief as we are able to communicate with our loved ones back home,’ said John Pulu, an Auckland based Tongan, who is a television and radio personality. ‘We are breathing an sleeping a little better,’ he said.

The United Nations said that about 84,000 people ‒ that is more than 80% of the population – has been badly affected by the disaster.

‘They have been affected through loss of houses, loss of communication, what we understand is the issue with the water,’ U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

The most pressing humanitarian needs are safe water, food and non-food items, he said.

‘Water is really the biggest life-saving issue. Water sources have been polluted, water systems are down.’ 

Wasteland: The coastline of the tropical paradise has been flattened in some areas with palm trees and buildings swept away

Pictured: A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022

New Zealand said Tonga, one of the few countries to be free of the new coronavirus, had agreed to receive two of its ships carrying aid and supply, despite concerns about importing a COVID-19 outbreak that would make matters worse. 

Vaccination against the virus is as high as 90 percent among Tongans.

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

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted about 40 miles (65 km) from the Tongan capital with a blast heard 2,300 km (1,400 miles) away in New Zealand, and sent tsunamis across the Pacific Ocean.

Waves reaching up to 15 metres (49 feet) hit the outer Ha’apia island group, destroying all the houses on the island of Mango, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, where 56 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged, the prime minister’s office said.

The U.N. said evacuation of people from these islands is underway.

The international airport is being cleaned up and the U.N. hopes it will be operational on Thursday. 

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