Sydney, Australia, Jan 20 (EFE).- The first plane carrying international humanitarian aid and disaster relief was to have landed in Tonga on Thursday after the capital’s airport runway was cleared of ash.
The South Pacific island nation was struck by a powerful eruption of an underwater volcano that triggered a tsunami over the weekend.
The first batch of aid comes after international satellite communication was restored in recent hours and the first images of the situation in the country showing debris, cars covered in thick layers of ash, and fallen trees were released.
A C-130 Hercules aircraft, which departed the New Zealand city of Auckland on Thursday morning, is due to have landed with water containers, shelters, power generators and communications equipment, among other essential supplies, New Zealand’s foreign and defense ministers, Nanaia Mahuta and Peeni Henare respectively, said in a joint statement.
“The delivery of supplies will be contactless and the aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” in compliance with Covid-19 protocols in Tonga, Peeni Henare said.
The Polynesian country, which comprises 169 islands and has 105,000 inhabitants, is Covid-free and has recorded only one coronavirus infection since the start of the pandemic.
The C-130 is the first to arrive at the airport in Nuku’alofa where local authorities have been working around the clock since Saturday’s disaster to remove the thick layer of ash from the runway.
The New Zealand government said that one of its patrol vessels, carrying hydrographic and dive personnel and a helicopter to assist with supply delivery, was also expected to arrive in Tonga on Thursday.
The vessel will review the state of the shipping channels and approaches to Tonga’s port as well as the structural integrity of the wharf, while an Australian boat, which will serve as a base for relief work, is getting ready to set sail.
The Tongan authorities are working to evacuate some 150 residents of the islands of Mango and Fonoifua to other less affected islands.
The west of the country’s main island, Tongatapu, has also been severely damaged.
The death toll sits at three, although the damage and casualties have not yet been quantified because the country is currently cut off due to the rupture of an undersea cable that provides telephone and internet services.
Telecom operator Digicel said on Wednesday night that international satellite communication had been restored, which will serve to ease the situation while repairs are carried out on the submarine cable over the next four weeks.
The first images from the ground posted on Twitter on Wednesday night by the Tongan consulate show cars covered in thick layers of ash, fallen trees and debris, and some children playing amid destruction.
The force of the tsunami was felt around the Pacific. EFE