Tongue in need of “sustained support” after a devastating volcanic eruption

The Tongans said they were determined to rebuild their battered homeland in the wake of last week’s devastating eruption and tsunami as a massive cleanup continued on Saturday in the Pacific.

The powerful eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano on Saturday triggered a tsunami that crashed over the Tongan archipelago and affected more than 80 percent of the population, according to the UN.

Tongan journalist Marian Kupu said most locals were convinced to stay when the huge recovery efforts began.

“We want to stay here in our country because this is what identifies us as tonga. We want to rebuild our country and unite and move on,” Kupu told AFP.

Toxic ash contaminated the drinking water supply, crops were destroyed and at least two villages were completely wiped out.

An estimated 1 cubic kilometer of material exploded from the volcano, and experts expect Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai to remain active “for weeks to months”.

“The people of Tonga will need sustained support to respond to a catastrophe of this magnitude,” said Sione Hufanga, the UN’s coordination specialist in Tonga.

“The people of Tonga are still overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.”

The world is rushing to the aid of the tsunami hit Tonga because drinking water, food is running out

Tonga is in third place in the World Risk Report, which measures countries on their susceptibility to experiencing natural disasters.

But despite the risk, Kupu said most Thongs wanted to stay.

“It is this feeling of pride that we have here, that we do not want to leave the country we were born and raised in,” she said.

A survivor from the island of Atata, which was flattened by the tsunami, told her he would return to the island even after the devastation, she added.

“He explained that he wanted to go back because his parents are buried there, he was born there and his life is there.

“He wanted the government or someone else to help build his little island so he could go back.”

“Unknown disaster”

New Zealand and Australian defense forces have begun supplying emergency supplies, especially water, to Tonga, but an Australian minister said the fear of unleashing a “Covid crisis” complicated the relief effort.

Tonga is Covid-free and has strict border control policies, which require contactless delivery of aids and a three-week quarantine period for all aid workers who want to enter the country.

“This is a very, very difficult time for the people of Tonga,” said Australian International Development Minister Zed Seselja, adding: “We fully respect the Tongan Government’s desire not to add a Covid crisis to a humanitarian crisis caused by a tsunami.”

Meanwhile, a third ship from New Zealand with helicopters, water, tarpaulins, milk powder and technical equipment is on its way to Tonga and is expected to arrive early next week.

Defense Minister Peeni Henare said all deliveries will be contactless in accordance with Tonga’s Covid-19 protocol.

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

The eruption broke an important underwater communication cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world, and it is expected to take at least a month before all communication services are fully restored.

In the meantime, partial communication has been established, although the mobile network provider Digicel said that the high number of calls to the island caused delays.

(AFP)

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