WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Coarse 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 major underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami.
The New Zealand Army is sending drinking water and other much-needed supplies, but said the ash on the runway will delay the flight by at least a day. A large cloud of ash since Saturday’s eruption had hampered previous flights. New Zealand also sent a naval vessel to Tonga on Tuesday with another scheduled to leave later in the day and promised a $ 1 million ($ 680,000) New Zealand start-up for recovery efforts.
This satellite image shows the main port facilities in Nuku’alofa, Tonga on December 29, 2021, weeks before the island was hit by a tsunami.
This satellite image shows the main port facilities in Nuku’alofa, Tonga on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, the day after a major underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows homes and buildings in Tonga on December 29, 2021, weeks before the island was hit by a tsunami.
This provided satellite image shows ash-covered houses and buildings in Tonga on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, the day after a major underwater volcanic eruption.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a closer look at Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano in Tonga on April 10, 2021.
This satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows a summary of Hunga Tonga volcano Hunga Ha’apai in Tonga on January 6, 2022, ahead of a major underwater volcanic eruption.
Australia sent a navy ship from Sydney to Brisbane to prepare for a support mission if needed.
Communications with Tonga have been extremely limited, but New Zealand and Australia sent military surveillance flights to assess the damage Monday, with aerial photos showing the vibrant Tongan landscape transformed from ash to a gray lunar landscape.
UN humanitarian officials and the Tongan government “report significant infrastructural damage around Tongatapu,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“There has been no contact from the Ha’apai Islands group and we are particularly concerned about two small islands Mango and Fonoi following observation flights confirming significant property damage,” Dujarric said.
The New Zealand High Commission in Tonga also reported “significant damage” along the west coast of Tongatapu’s main island, including resorts and along the waterfront. The commission said Tongan police had confirmed two deaths from the tsunami, including a British national.
Satellite images captured the spectacular explosion, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom over the South Pacific. Tsunami waves of about 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) hit the Tonga coastline and crossed the Pacific, causing minor damage from New Zealand to Santa Cruz, California. The blast triggered an audible boom that could be heard as far as Alaska.
Two people drowned in Peru, who also reported an oil spill as the waves moved a ship that was transporting oil to a refinery.
The family said British woman Angela Glover, 50, died after being swept away by a wave in Tonga.
Nick Eleini said his sister’s body had been found and that her husband had survived. “I understand that this terrible accident happened as they tried to save their dogs,” Eleini told Sky News. He said it had been his sister’s life dream “to live in the South Pacific and” she loved her life there “.
The eruption of Hunga Tonga volcano Hunga Ha’apai, about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa, was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions. In late 2014 and early 2015, the eruptions created a small new island and disrupted air travel in the Pacific archipelago.
Land imaging company Planet Labs PBC had been monitoring the island after a new ventilation began to erupt in late December. Satellite images showed how drastically the volcano had shaped the area, creating a rising island outside Tonga.
The UN World Food Program is exploring how to bring aid and more staff and has received a request to restore communication lines in Tonga, Dujarric said.
A complicating factor is that Tonga has managed to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks. New Zealand said its military staff was vaccinated and ready to implement Tongan protocols.
The New Zealand Army said it hoped the airfield in Tonga would open on Wednesday or Thursday. The military said it had considered an air strike, but that it was not “the preference of the Tongan authorities”.
Communication with the island nation is limited because the only underwater fiber-optic cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world is likely to have been disconnected in the explosion. The company that owns the cable and repairs can take weeks.
Samiuela Fonua, who heads the board at Tonga Cable Ltd., said the cable appeared to have been disconnected about 10 to 15 minutes after the explosion. He said the cable extends to the top and inside the coral reefs, which can be sharp.
Fonua said a ship will have to pull the cable to assess the damage and then the crews will have to fix it. A single vacation can take a week to repair, he said, while multiple vacations can last up to three weeks. He added that it was still unclear when it would be safe for a ship to go near the underwater volcano to undertake the work.
A second underwater cable connecting the islands within Tonga also appeared to have been disconnected, Fonua said. However, a local telephone network was functioning, allowing the Tongans to call each other. But he said the remaining ash cloud was continuing to make satellite calls abroad difficult.
Associated Press journalist Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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