WORLD NEWS

Three of Tonga’s smaller islands badly damaged by tsunami

Jan 19, 2022, 5:54 AM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:41 pm
In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, an Orion plane flies over Tonga where volc...
In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, an Orion plane flies over Tonga where volcanic ash covers roof tops and vegetation, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Thick ash on an airport runway was delaying aid deliveries to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, where significant damage was being reported days after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami. (Cpl. Vanessa Parker/NZDF)
(Cpl. Vanessa Parker/NZDF)

SYDNEY (AP) — Three of Tonga’s smaller islands suffered serious damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said Wednesday, as a wider picture begins to emerge of the destruction caused by the eruption of an undersea volcano near the Pacific archipelago nation.

Communications have been down throughout Tonga since the eruption on Saturday, but a ship made it to the outlying islands of Nomuka, Mango and Fonoifua on Wednesday, and reported back that few homes remain standing after settlements were hit with 15-meter (49 feet) -high waves, said Katie Greenwood, the head of delegation in the Pacific for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which had two people aboard the vessel to help assess the damage.

“Very unfortunate information has come to light overnight about the three islands that we were really worried about — that they have all suffered devastating consequences as an effect of these incoming waves,” she told The Associated Press in an interview from Fiji. “Most of the structures and dwellings on those islands have been completely destroyed.”

It is not clear yet what assistance Tonga needs or wants from the international community, and complicating matters is the country’s concern over the possible spread of COVID-19, which it has effectively kept outside its borders except for one 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 this would complicate efforts but is also understandable amid the pandemic.

“They really don’t want to exchange one disaster for another,” she said.

Some 60% of Tonga’s 106,000 people have already received two doses of a COVID vaccine, and nearly 70% have received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data.

Missionaries in Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission safe; no contact yet with Tonga Outer Island Mission

In anticipation of the country’s needs, New Zealand has already sent two ships. One is carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of water and a desalination plant with the capacity to produce 70,000 more liters (18,492 gallons) per day, and another is bringing a survey and diving team to help assess the damage to shipping channels, ports and wharf infrastructure.

They’re expected to take three to four days to arrive, though one estimate was that they could be there as early as Friday, said Peeni Henare, New Zealand’s defense minister.

“We don’t know what the shipping lanes look like, and so we want to, of course, proceed with a bit of caution as we get closer to the Tongan islands,” he said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the teams en route would also be available to help if needed with the evacuation of the approximately 150 people who live on the devastated outlying islands.

“We stand ready to assist where it is useful to the government of Tonga, and where they are satisfied with COVID protocols,” she said.

Australia is also preparing to send aid by air and ship, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expected to talk with his counterpart in Tonga later Wednesday to better understand what is needed.

“Our defense forces have stood up their operation and are deploying as necessary and directed,” he said. “So we feel deeply for our family in Tonga.”

The volcano coated the main island with a 2-centimeter (0.78 inch) layer of ash, which has rendered the 2.6-kilometer (1.6 miles) runway at Fua’amotu International Airport unusable.

Volunteers have been working to sweep ash away to clear a path for aid planes to land, and there was hope it may be ready as early as Thursday.

Mahuta said the runway was not thought to be damaged beneath the ash, but that they would not know for sure until it was all cleared.

A New Zealand reconnaissance aircraft has already flown over the impacted islands and provided the data to Tonga’s government.

Communications have been severely restricted because the single underwater fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world was likely severed in the eruption. The company that owns the cable said the repairs could take weeks.

Satellite images 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 heavy amount of ash in the air has also meant that satellite communications have been sporadic but they are improving, Greenwood said.

So far, it seems the country has avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.

The government said Tuesday it has confirmed three deaths — two local residents and a British woman — though it has cautioned the toll is expected to rise as more reports come in from outlying areas.

On Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, perhaps the biggest problem is the ash that has transformed 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 that clean drinking water remained the top need.

“Water is definitely, 100 percent, the top priority at this point in time, along with shelter needs,” she said.

Meantime, Tonga’s Red Cross, which has about 20 people and 100 trained volunteers, is already distributing shelter kits and other supplies, she said.

In Sydney, the deputy president of the Tonga Australia Chamber of Commerce, Koniseti Liutai, said his organization was facilitating free shipping containers for members of the local Tongan community to send aid to their relatives back home.

In particular, he said they were trying to address specific needs they had identified, those of the elderly or disabled.

“We know that the government of Tonga and Australia and New Zealand and others are addressing food and water,” he said. “We’re trying to be a little bit more specified for family requirements.”

______

Rising reported from Bangkok.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

World News

KYIV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 07: Staff members of the Centre for Civil Liberty pose for a photo and cele...
ADAM SCHRECK

Russia strikes annexed area; more bodies in liberated zones

Russia concentrated attacks Friday in its increasingly troubled invasion of Ukraine on areas it illegally annexed as the death toll from earlier missile strikes on apartment buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia rose to 14.
17 hours ago
UNSPECIFIED, GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Russians and Armenians seen with their luggage after crossing ...
BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

2 Russians seek asylum after reaching remote Alaska island

Two Russians who said they fled the country to avoid military service have requested asylum in the U.S. after landing on a remote Alaska island.
2 days ago
The US military conducted a raid in northeast Syria targeting a senior ISIS official on October 5, ...
Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman

US kills two top ISIS leaders in Syria airstrike

US forces killed two top ISIS leaders in an airstrike in northern Syria on Thursday, according to two defense officials, one day after a US raid killed an ISIS smuggler.
2 days ago
HONG KONG, CHINA - OCTOBER 21: A Cathay Pacific passenger jet takes off from Hong Kong Internationa...
Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN

Hong Kong offers 500,000 free air tickets to tempt tourists back

Hong Kong has confirmed plans to give away half a million airline tickets in a bid to boost tourism.
2 days ago
At least 22 children were among 34 people killed in a mass shooting at a child care center in north...
Kocha Olarn, Hannah Ritchie and Heather Chen, CNN

Children among at least 34 people killed in nursery shooting in Thailand

At least 22 children were among 34 people killed in a mass shooting at a child care center in northeastern Thailand on Thursday.
2 days ago
Image for this story only...
Yoonjung Seo and Caitlin Hu

North Korea fires another missile as tensions rise around Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired another missile into the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on Thursday morning local time, according to South Korean and Japanese officials, escalating tensions in the area amid a series of shows of military might this week.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
Three of Tonga’s smaller islands badly damaged by tsunami