Disasters & Accidents

First international aid vessel arrives in tsunami-hit Tonga

Sydney, Australia, Jan 21 (EFE).- The first international aid supply ship arrived in Tonga’s capital from New Zealand on Friday, six days after the island nation was hit by a devastating tsunami.

It came a day after a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules arrived carrying the first flight disaster relief items, followed by another from Australia.

HMNZS Aotearoa arrived in Nuku’alofa Friday loaded with 250,000 liters of drinking water and the capacity to produce 70,000 liters per day, the New Zealand High Commission in Tonga said.

Water supply contamination by volcanic ash and sea water has made the shortage of drinking water one of the most urgent problems the country is facing.

“Trucks from National Emergency Management Office have begun collecting and delivering water supplies from Aotearoa,” New Zealand authorities said alongside photos of the ship’s arrival.

Another New Zealand vessel, the HMNZS Wellington, arrived in Tonga on Thursday with hydrographers “immediately deployed to survey approaches to Nuku’alofa,” with its Navy divers also checking the integrity of the wharf infrastructure, the New Zealand Navy said in a Tweet.

Another ship, the HMNZS Canterbury was also being prepared to join the deployment overnight Friday with two NH90 helicopters on board, the Navy added. The ship will transport items such as tarpaulins, water containers, milk powder and engineering equipment.

Also Friday, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced an additional NZ$2 million in humanitarian funding for Tonga, bringing the total to NZ$3 million ($2 million).

“This support will enable more crucial supplies, such as drinking water, food supplies, as well as engineering equipment and tools to clear debris, to be sent to Tonga in the coming days and weeks,” said Mahuta.

Australian authorities were trying to coordinate more flights for the coming days, its Ministry of Defense said Friday. An Australian Navy ship has also set sail for Tonga.

On Thursday, a second Australian flight had to return to the country “due to in-flight issues,” Canberra said without providing further detail.

As Tonga is still Covid-free, all aid delivery is contactless to adhere to the strict anti-pandemic protocols.

Meanwhile, the violent eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai set a record for being heard furthest from a volcano, according to a New Zealand volcanologist.

“Audible booming could be heard from New Zealand to the south and Alaska to the north (…) This eruption now holds the world record for being ‘heard’ so far from the volcano,” GNS Science volcanologist Steve Sherburn said in a statement Friday.

The eruption caused a shockwave that traveled around the world “several times” and “continues to circle the globe,” he said, adding that plumes of gas and ash reached up to 30 kilometers high, according to preliminary data.

The eruption generated a tsunami that impacted several nations around the Pacific Ocean as distant as the United States, Chile and Japan, with waves of up to 15 meters high in Tonga.

“The eruption was rare in that it caused tsunami waves large enough to impact thousands of kilometres away from the volcano… We haven’t seen a volcanic-source tsunami like this since Krakatau, Indonesia in 1883,” Sherburn said.

Saturday’s eruption and tsunami cost the lives of at least three people, although it is feared that the number may climb.

The Red Cross estimates that some 80,000 people, out of the total 105,000 inhabitants of the country, have been affected by the catastrophe.

Residents of Tonga’s 169 islands have been mostly incommunicado since the disaster due to the severance of an underwater cable that provides telephone and internet connections to the country.

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