Water crisis looms as residents tackle debris in tsunami-hit Tonga

  • New Zealand Navy ships will arrive in Tonga on Friday
  • The airport could reopen on Thursday
  • Australian Prime Minister speaks with his Tongan counterpart
  • Japan, United States, China and Australia offer help

Jan 19 (Reuters) – Two New Zealand navy ships will arrive in Tonga on Friday carrying critical water supplies for the Pacific island nation reeling from a volcanic eruption and tsunami and largely cut off from the outside world .

At least three people have been killed and hundreds of homes in Tonga’s small outlying islands have been destroyed after Saturday’s huge eruption triggered tsunami waves that swept through the islands, home to 105,000 people. Read more

With Tonga’s airport smothered in volcanic ash and communications hampered by a broken undersea cable, reports of the extent of the devastation come mainly from reconnaissance aircraft.

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But photographs posted to social media revealed more damage on Wednesday, showing coastal areas where trees and buildings had been washed away and neighborhoods covered in a thick layer of ash. People worked together to clean up debris and inspect the ruins of their homes.

The Red Cross said its teams in Tonga had confirmed that salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash were polluting the drinking water of tens of thousands of people.

“Ensuring access to clean water is an immediate and essential priority…as there is a growing risk of diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea,” said Katie Greenwood of the International Federation of Cross Societies. Red and Red Crescent.

New Zealand has said Tonga, one of the few countries free of the new coronavirus, has agreed to receive two of its ships, the Aotearoa and the Wellington, despite concerns about the importation of an outbreak of COVID-19 which would aggravate his crisis.

Simon Griffiths, captain of the Aotearoa, said his vessel was carrying 250,000 liters of water, along with other supplies, and had the capacity to produce an additional 70,000 liters per day.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted about 40 miles (65 km) from Tonga’s capital with an explosion heard 2,300 km (1,400 miles) in New Zealand and sent tsunamis across the Pacific Ocean.

James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the force of the eruption was estimated to be the equivalent of five to 10 megatons of TNT, more than 500 times that of the nuclear bomb that the United States dropped on the Japanese city. of Hiroshima at the end of World War II.

Waves of up to 15 meters (49ft) hit the outer island group of Ha’apia, destroying all homes on Mango Island, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu , where 56 houses were destroyed or severely damaged. , said the Prime Minister’s Office.

A view of a beach and debris following a volcanic eruption and tsunami, in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, January 18, 2022 in this photo obtained from social media on January 19, 2022. With the courtesy of Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via REUTERS

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Tongan communities overseas have already posted images of families on Facebook, showing glimpses of houses reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything covered in gray ash.

Tonga has been largely offline since the volcano damaged its only undersea fiber optic communications cable. Her owner said it would probably take a month or more to fix.

Telecoms operator Digicel said it had restored some international phone services to Tonga via a satellite link, although numerous attempts by Reuters to switch were unsuccessful.

The archipelago has 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. Its main airport, Fua’amotu International, was not damaged by the tsunami but was covered in ash, which had to be cleaned by hand.

A Tongan official said it could be possible for aid flights from New Zealand and Australia to start on Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke with Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni.

He said two Hercules planes were ready to depart with humanitarian supplies and telecommunications equipment, and a navy ship, the Adelaide, was preparing to leave Brisbane with water purification equipment and additional humanitarian supplies.

Australia and New Zealand have also pledged immediate financial aid.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has approved immediate assistance of $100,000, and Japan has said it will donate more than $1 million in aid, as well as clean water and materials to clean up ashes.

The Asian Development Bank was discussing with Tonga the possibility of declaring a state of emergency to tap into a $10 million disaster facility, senior bank official Emma Veve told Reuters.

China said it would send aid, including water and food, when the airport opens.

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Reporting by Praveen Menon, Kirsty Needham, Tom Westbrook, Karen Lema, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Jane Wardell; Written by Robert Birsel and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Janet Lawrence

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