More ships and aircraft carrying aid are due to arrive in Tonga in the coming days as the international community responds to calls for urgent assistance from the Pacific island nation following a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.
A New Zealand maritime sustainment vessel, the HMNZS Aotearoa, carrying 250,000 litres of water and able to produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant, is expected to arrive in Tonga on Friday.
The first flights from Australia and New Zealand landed in Tonga on Thursday with much-needed supplies of water for sanitation and hygiene as well as shelter, communication equipment, and power generators.
A second Australian aid flight had to turn back on Thursday due to in-flight issues and is now expected today, the Australian High Commission in Tonga said on Facebook.
More help is on the way with the HMAS Adelaide en route from Brisbane and due in Tonga next week, it said.
Two Japanese C-130H aircraft carrying aid supplies, including water, also left Komaki Air Base in Aichi Prefecture for Tonga on Thursday and is expected to arrive on Friday.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted with a deafening explosion on Saturday, triggering tsunamis that destroyed villages, resorts and many buildings and knocked out communications for the nation of about 105,000 people.
At least three people have been officially reported killed, although the real extent of the casualties could not be immediately determined due to limited communication and difficulty in accessing some of the affected areas.
Ash has blanketed the archipelago and spoiled much of its drinking water.
United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a briefing that Tonga has asked for urgent assistance and the agency is in close contact with the authorities.
“Assessment teams have reached most parts of the country, including remote and isolated islands,” Dujarric said.
“We remain seriously concerned about access to safe water for 50,000 people throughout the country. Water quality testing continues, and most people are relying on bottled water,” he said.
Hunga Tonga & Hunga Ha'apai were 2 separate islands that connected from the growth of the volcano between them ~7 yrs ago. They are now disconnected again. pic.twitter.com/gnijplvteE
— Dr. Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars) January 18, 2022
Some 60,000 people have been affected by damage to crops, livestock, and fisheries due to ashfall, saltwater intrusion and the potential for acid rain, Dujarric said.
There are also reports of fuel shortages, he added.
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne said on Friday that cash donations to Tonga for immediate humanitarian supplies – Australia has donated $1m – would need to be followed with more substantial support for rebuilding.
Telephone links between Tonga and the outside world were reconnected late on Wednesday, although restoring full internet service is likely to take a month or more.
Tongans have turned to social media to post images of the destruction by the tsunami and give accounts of their shock after the massive explosion.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has said the force of the eruption was estimated to be the equivalent of five to 10 megatons of TNT, or more than 500 times that of the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of World War Two.