The eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai on Saturday 17 of January left Tonga engulfed in smoke clouds and prompted a tsunami that has caused significant flooding and damage. Water supplies have been contaminated by volcanic ash and saltwater, making clean water a priority for aid providers. Australia, New Zealand and other pacific nations such as Japan and the US were also alerted to the potential risk of tsunamis or flooding as a result of the eruption.
Katie Greenwood, Pacific Head of Delegation at International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), made the following statement “From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense – especially for out lying Islands. We are trying hard to establish contact with our colleagues at Tonga Red Cross and establish the scale and specific nature of the support they need.”
Lack of communication has complicated the situation and caused distress amongst relatives. “With communication channels disrupted, one of the priorities for Tonga Red Cross will be to work with our Movement partner, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to restore family links, which will help people from all over the world try and find out if their family and friends in Tonga are safe and well,” continued Greenwood.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern said that damage to the main undersea communications cable caused the loss of contact. She assured that experts had been working hard to reestablish connections and that some islands now had access to internet and phone signals.
Help is on its way
New Zealand and Australian authorities have sent aircraft to investigate the damage and evaluate what further help is needed. “Tonga authorities have accepted an initial offer of assistance from New Zealand of an NZDF surveillance flight,” said Ardern. She explained that flight missions on Sunday had to be postponed to Monday morning (today) due to the large ash clouds covering the area. She confirmed that naval vessels were also ready to deploy if aircraft could not enter the airspace. She said that Tongan authorities had accepted an offer from the New Zealand government of $500,000 in aid support and reassured that this was a ‘starting figure and the government will provide additional assistance as required’.
After communications with Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, she concluded that both countries ‘stand at the ready to assist our Pacific neighbours’.