Disasters & Accidents

Tonga evacuates residents from devastated islands as aid presents Covid risk

Sydney, Australia, Jan 19 (EFE).- Tongan authorities on Wednesday were working to evacuate two of its islands most affected by the weekend’s volcanic eruption and tsunami, as the entrance of foreign aid presented a threat to the country’s Covid-free status.

Saturday’s thunderous eruption of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai, which could be heard thousands of kilometers away and clearly seen from space, triggered a tsunami that affected several Pacific nations.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Wednesday confirmed at a press conference that the Tongan Navy evacuation operation was underway to transfer some 150 residents of Mango and Fonoifua islands to others less affected by the natural disaster.

“We are aware there is significant damage to the outer islands. Two of those islands will undergo an evacuation of the numbers that are there and our Navy vessels may well be in a position to help with that effort,” Mahuta said.

The government of Tonga said Tuesday night in its first statement since the disaster due to the severance of communications, that the tsunami destroyed all houses on Mango island, while only two remained standing on Fonoifua.

At least three people were killed in what the government described as an “unprecedented disaster.”

New Zealand and Australia have sent naval vessels carrying water and humanitarian aid among other things such as at least one helicopter.

But the entrance of foreign aid and personnel poses a new threat to Tonga – one of the few nations that have avoided Covid-19.

The island nation’s only case was at the end of October last year in a vaccinated person who arrived at the border from New Zealand and was quarantined.

“As you know, there is no Covid in Tonga, so the (New Zealand government’s) conversations have been around contact with delivery and how that can take place [safely],” Mahuta said.

“It’s a challenge in all sorts of ways,” she said, adding that Wellington was in contact with the Tongan government around this issue as well as what sort of help was needed.

On the ground in Tonga, the airport runway on the country’s main island was being cleared to allow the arrival of humanitarian flights.

The main priority is the distribution of clean drinking water due to contamination of ash and salt water. EFE


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