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New Zealand aid flight on way to Tonga, images reveal devastation

Australia also sending relief flight as recovery effort accelerates in wake of eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai.

The first flight carrying supplies is on its way to Tonga after the runway at the Pacific island nation’s main airport was cleared of ash and debris from last weekend’s devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.

Like many other parts of the country, the runway at Nuku’alofa was blanketed in ash after the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, an undersea volcano, which sent giant plumes of ash, volcanic debris, and smoke into the air.

The aircraft, an air force Hercules C-130 transport plane from New Zealand, took off from Auckland at about noon (23:00 GMT) for the four-hour flight, the country’s foreign and defence ministries said in a joint statement on Thursday.

“The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment,” Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

The plane is expected to be on the ground for about 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand, given concerns about the coronavirus. Tonga is one of the few countries in the world that is COVID-19 free and has strict border controls.

Australian media reported that an Australian aid flight had also taken off for Tonga.

The runway was cleared late on Wednesday.

People clean debris from the streets of Nuku’alofa in Tonga on January 18, 2022, following the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai [Courtesy of Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via Reuters]

The eruption also cut off Tonga’s communications with the outside world, with damage assessments reliant on aerial surveillance flights by the New Zealand and Australian airforce. The first on-the-ground images of the scale of the devastation facing the country emerged only on Wednesday.

Pictures shared on social media by the Consulate of the Kingdom of Tonga showed parts of Nuku’alofa, the capital, strewn with debris, and covered in thick brown ash.

Other images showed people clearing ash and removing debris from the streets.

The United Nations and aid agencies have stressed the urgent need to get fresh water to the islands, after the saltwater from the tsunami contaminated supplies.

A ship from the New Zealand navy, carrying 250,000 litres of fresh water and with the ability to produce 70,000 litres of freshwater a day through its desalination plant, is expected to arrive on Friday, while Australia’s HMAS Adelaide is being loaded with supplies and equipment in Brisbane.

 

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai on Saturday sent a tsunami crashing into parts of Tonga, which is spread across about 100 islands, and prompted warnings for countries all around the Pacific.

It also ruptured Tonga’s undersea communications cable, cutting the country off from the rest of the world.

Limited communications in Nuku-alofa have now been established, but the cable is expected to take at least four weeks to be repaired.

It was the most cataclysmic eruption of a volcano since 1991, when Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. Three people have been confirmed dead.




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