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Assistance in arriving in Tonga when the airport opens, telephone lines partially restored

  • Tonga airport reopens after ash on runway cleared
  • AU, NZ flights with aids en route to Nuku'alofa
  • Telephone contact with Tonga established 5 days after blackout
  • The UN says 80% of Tonga's population is hard hit
  • The Tongans fear that clean drinking water will run out

January 20 (Reuters) - Aircraft with much-needed humanitarian supplies from Australia and New Zealand will arrive in tsunami-hit Tonga on Thursday, when the island in the South Pacific finally made contact with the rest of the world after being cut off for five days. .

Australian Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said a Royal Australian Air Force plane loaded with humanitarian supplies and a sweeper to help remove ash from the airport runway had left Brisbane and another plane would depart later Thursday.

New Zealand's foreign minister said its air force has also sent a C-130 Hercules from Auckland, which will land in the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa around 4pm New Zealand time.

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"The aircraft carries humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water tanks, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits and communications equipment," Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement.

The supply of supplies will be contactless and the plane is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand, she said. Tonga is COVID-19-free and is concerned that aid workers may bring the virus.

Japan said Thursday it would send aid, including drinking water and volcanic ash cleaning equipment, through Japan's International Cooperation Agency.

The eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, which has killed at least three people, sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean on Saturday and severely damaged villages, resorts and many buildings in Tonga, knocking out communications to the nation of about 105,000 people.

Telephone connections between Tonga and the wider world were restored late Wednesday, though restoring a full Internet connection is likely to take a month or more, according to the owner of the archipelago's only submarine communications cable.

In a speech to Reuters from Nuku'alofa, local journalist Marian Kupu said the Tongans were in the process of cleaning up all the dust from the volcanic eruption, but feared they could run out of drinking water.

“Every home has their own tanks with water supply, but most of them are filled with dust, so it is not safe to drink,” Kupu said.

A few villages on the west side of Tonga were hit very hard, she said.

"I do not want to say that we expect more deaths, but as we speak, the government is trying to fly to the other islands to control them."

Asked if there was enough food, she said, "I can say we might be able to survive the next few weeks, but I'm not sure about water."

Meanwhile, Tongans abroad feverishly called their families home to ensure their safety.

"Today there is a sigh of relief as we are able to communicate with our loved ones back home," said John Pulu, a Tongan-based Auckland-based TV and radio personality.

"We breathe and sleep a little better," he said.


The UN said about 84,000 people - more than 80% of the population - had been hit hard by the disaster.

"They have been hit by loss of houses, loss of communication, what we understand is the problem of the water," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

The most urgent humanitarian needs are clean water, food and non-food, he said.

"Water is really the biggest life-saving problem. The water sources have been polluted, the water systems are down."

New Zealand said Tonga, one of the few coronavirus - free countries, had agreed to receive two of its ships with aid and supplies, despite concerns about importing a COVID-19 outbreak that would things get worse. Vaccination against the virus is as high as 90% among Tongans.

The ships, which carried 250,000 liters of water along with other supplies, arrive on Friday.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano erupted about 40 miles (65 km) from the Tongan capital with an explosion heard 2,300 km (1,400 miles) away in New Zealand.

Waves reaching up to 15 meters (49 feet) hit the outer Ha'apai archipelago, destroying all the houses 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.

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Reporting by Praveen Menon and Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo; editing by Grant McCool, Michael Perry and Richard Pullin

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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