Tonga assesses damage after tsunami, raises concerns about drinking water and ashes

Australia And New Zealand sent surveillance flights on Monday to assess the damage Tonga, which has been cut off from the rest of the world after a volcano erupted, triggered a tsunami and covered a Pacific island with ash.

Australia’s Pacific Ocean Minister Jade Seselja said initial reports suggested no major casualties Saturday’s Eruption and Tsunami But Australian police had visited the beaches and reported significant damage with “houses thrown around”.

“We know there has been some significant damage, and know there has been significant damage to resorts,” he said in an interview with an Australian radio station, adding that Tonga’s airport is in relatively good condition.

He said that there is news of a British woman missing.

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The surveillance flights will assess the situation on the outlying islands where communication has been completely cut off.

Tonga’s deputy chief of mission in Australia, Curtis Tuihalangingi, called for patience as Tonga’s government sets its priorities for aid.

Tonga is concerned about the risk of Covid-19 spreading to the island of aid distribution, which is COVID-free.

“We don’t want to bring another wave – a tsunami of COVID-19,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“When people see such a huge explosion they want to help,” he said, but Tonga diplomats were also concerned by some private fundraising efforts and urged the public to wait until the disaster relief fund was announced.

Any aid sent to Tonga will need to be set aside, and it is likely that no foreign personnel will be allowed to disembark, he said.

The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Hapai volcano triggered a tsunami off the coast of Tonga and cut off phone and internet lines for the entire island.

The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Hapai volcano triggered a tsunami off the coast of Tonga and cut off communications.Tonga Geological Services / Reuters

He said international communication was severely affected by the damage to the underwater cable, which could take more than a week to restore, and Australia and New Zealand are helping with satellite calls.

Telephone networks have been restored in Tonga, but ash contaminating drinking water has become a major health concern.

“Most people are not aware that the ash is toxic and bad for them to breathe and they have to wear a mask,” Tuihalangingi said.

The Hatafu Beach Resort on the Hihifo Peninsula, 21km (13 miles) west of the capital, Nuku’alofa, was “completely wiped out”, the owners said on Facebook.

The report said that the family managing the resort had escaped from the bushes for their lives to avoid the tsunami. “The entire west coast, along with the village of Kanukupolu, has been completely destroyed,” the resort said.

British woman Angela Glover was missing after being swept away by a wave when she and her husband, James, the owner of Happy Cellar Tattoo in Nuku’Alofa, went to pick up their dogs.

New Zealand’s state broadcaster TVNZ reported that the husband managed to grab a tree, but his wife, who runs a dog rescue shelter, and their dogs were swept away.

The Red Cross said it was mobilizing its network to respond to what it called the worst volcanic eruption in decades in the Pacific.

Katie Greenwood, the Pacific head of the delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Reuters the tsunami could affect up to 80,000 people.

Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Hapai has erupted regularly over the past few decades, but the effects of Saturday’s eruption were felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and Japan. Two people drowned on a beach due to high waves caused by a tsunami in northern Peru.

New Zealand forecasters Weatherwatch said more than a day after the eruption, lands thousands of miles to the west are covered with volcanic ash clouds.

Early data suggests the eruption was the largest since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines 30 years ago, New Zealand-based volcanologist Shane Cronin told Radio New Zealand.

“This is the best explosion seen from space,” Cronin said.