Three of Tonga’s smaller islands badly damaged by tsunami
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Three of Tonga’s smaller islands were badly damaged by tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said, as a wider picture begins to emerge of the destruction caused by a volcano erupting beneath sailor near the Pacific archipelago nation.
Communications have been broken across Tonga since Saturday’s eruption, but a ship visited the outlying islands of Nomuka, Mango and Fonoifua on Wednesday and reported few homes left standing after settlements were hit by 15 meters (49ft) – high waves, said Katie Greenwood, head of delegation in the Pacific for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who had two people on board the ship to help to assess the damage.
“Very unfortunate information emerged overnight about the three islands that really worried us – that they all suffered devastating consequences as a result of these incoming waves,” she told the Associated Press in an interview from Fiji. “Most of the structures and dwellings on these islands have been completely destroyed.”
It is not yet clear what assistance Tonga needs or wants from the international community, and what complicates matters is the country’s concern over the possible spread of COVID-19, which it has effectively kept in check. outside its borders, with the exception of a case reported in a traveler from New Zealand in October.
Tonga is hoping for “almost contactless disaster relief” as a precaution, Greenwood said, acknowledging that would complicate efforts but is also understandable amid the pandemic.
“They really don’t want to trade one disaster for another,” she said.
In anticipation of the country’s needs, New Zealand has already sent two ships. One carries 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of water and a desalination plant with the capacity to produce an additional 70,000 liters (18,492 gallons) per day, and another brings in a survey and dive team to help assess damage to shipping channels, ports and wharf infrastructure.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the teams would also be available to help evacuate the approximately 150 people living on the devastated outer islands if needed.
“We are ready to help where it is helpful to the Tonga government and where they are happy with COVID protocols,” she said.
Australia is also preparing to send aid by air and sea, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expected to speak with his counterpart in Tonga later on Wednesday to better understand what is necessary.
“Our defense forces have resisted their operation and are deploying as required and directed,” he said. “So we feel deeply for our family in Tonga.”
The volcano blanketed the main island in a 2 centimeter (0.78 inch) layer of ash, rendering the 2.6 kilometer (1.6 mile) runway at Fua’ International Airport unusable. love.
Volunteers have been working to sweep up the ash to clear a path for aid planes to land, and it was hoped it could be ready by Thursday.
Communications were severely restricted as the only undersea fiber optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world was likely severed during the eruption. The company that owns the cable said repairs could take weeks.
Satellite images have captured the spectacular eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific. The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.
The large amount of ash in the air has also meant that satellite communications have been sporadic, but are improving, Greenwood said.
So far, it appears the country has avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.
The government said on Tuesday it had confirmed three deaths – two local residents and a British woman – although it warned the toll was expected to rise as more reports come in from outlying areas.
On Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, perhaps the biggest problem is ash which has turned it into a gray moonscape, contaminating the rainwater that people normally rely on to drink.
Greenwood said people had been warned in advance to protect their water supplies and clean water remained the main need.
“Water is definitely, 100%, the top priority at this point, along with shelter needs,” she said.
Rising reported from Bangkok.
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