The first humanitarian flights land in Tonga during destruction from volcanic ash, the tsunami

The first humanitarian flights arrived at the volcano and tsunami-stricken Tonga on Thursday, five days after the double disaster cut off the Pacific from the rest of the world.

Tonga has been inaccessible since Saturday, when one of the largest volcanic explosions in decades covered the country in a layer of ash, triggered a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean and cut off important submarine cables.

Two large military transport planes from Australia and New Zealand landed at Tonga’s main airport – only recently cleared of a thick layer of ash after strenuous effort.

“Landed!” said Australia’s International Development and Pacific Minister Zed Seselja, praising the arrival of a C-17 “carrying much-needed humanitarian supplies”.

“A second C-17 is now on the way,” he added.

Among the equipment on board was said to be a “ski-controlled loader with a sweeper” to help keep the track free of ash.

New Zealand confirmed that its C-130 Hercules had also landed.

“The aircraft carries humanitarian aid and emergency supplies, including water tanks, temporary shelter kits, generators, hygiene and family kits and communications equipment,” said New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

More than 80 percent of the archipelago’s 100,000 population has been affected by the disaster, the UN has estimated, and initial assessments indicate an urgent need for drinking water.

The first piece of pictures that emerged from Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa shows ash buildings, collapsed walls and streets full of boulders, tree trunks and other debris.

Tongans worked for days at the airport and tried to clear the runway of ashes so that much-needed help could arrive.

The work was painfully slow, only a few hundred meters cleared every day.

With the air bridge now open, nations are rushing in to get help.

Japan has announced that it will send two C-130 aircraft, and nations from China to France have indicated that they will also provide assistance.

But strict Covid protocols that have kept Tonga virtually virus-free mean that supplies will be “contactless”.

New Zealand Commander James Gilmour said: “There will be no contact between the New Zealand Defense Forces and anyone on the ground.”

The crew was only expected to be on the ground for 90 minutes.

“Unknown disaster”

Three people were killed when the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded on Saturday, triggering tsunami waves that tore down homes and caused extensive flooding.

Waves as high as 15 meters (50 feet) were reported to have destroyed almost every home on some remote islands.

The Tongan government has called the double-onset tsunami “an unprecedented disaster” and declared a nearly one-month-long national emergency.

When the underwater caldera exploded, it fired debris 30 kilometers (19 miles) into the air and deposited ash and acid rain over the 170-island kingdom – which poisoned the water supply.

“The water supply across Tonga has been severely affected by ash and salt water from the tsunami,” said Katie Greenwood of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

There are also concerns about the island’s food supply, with a tearful National Assembly speaker Fatafehi ​​Fakafanua saying “all agriculture is ruined”.

Sending to arrive

Australia and New Zealand are also sending aid at sea, with Royal New Zealand Navy ships HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa expected to arrive in Tongan waters on Friday.

They carry water supplies and a desalination plant of 70,000 liters a day, as well as the navy’s hydrographic and diving personnel to examine shipping canals.

The Australian military aid ship HMAS Adelaide is also standing next to Brisbane. It is Canberra’s “hope and intention” that the ship will depart for the island kingdom on Friday, said an Australian official.

HMAS Adelaide will carry “water purification equipment and additional humanitarian supplies”, as well as two Chinook heavy helicopters.

The eruption released a pressure wave that crossed the planet and traveled at supersonic speeds of about 1,230 kilometers per hour, says the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

An important underwater communication cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world broke, causing Tongans abroad to try to contact loved ones.

While partial communication was restored on Wednesday, mobile phone network provider Digicel said the high number of calls to the island caused delays.

It is expected to take at least a month before the submarine cable connection is completely restored.

(AFP)

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