In the first government update after a volcano explosion created a tsunami, Tonga says it has been hit by a “unprecedented calamity.”
Rescue teams have been dispatched to a number of the outer islands, including one where all of the dwellings have been destroyed and another where only two homes have survived.
The accident claimed the lives of three people: two British nationals and a British woman.
As ash continues to fall from the volcano, aid activities have been hampered.
Volunteers have started clearing the main airport’s runway to make room for planes delivering drinking water and other supplies.
While cleaning the ash has proven more challenging than predicted, excellent progress has been made, and flights are likely to resume soon, according to a UN spokesperson for the region on Wednesday morning in Tonga.
“We believed it would be operational [Tuesday], but more ash has been falling, so it hasn’t been properly cleared yet,” Jonathan Veitch told reporters.
Mr Veitch thanked New Zealand and Australia for their prompt response in working to transfer aid via ships, describing the situation as “very difficult.”
The single underwater cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world was severed in Saturday’s eruption, severely disrupting communications with the island chain.
Since then, many Tongans living abroad have been hoping to hear from loved ones.
On Tuesday, the Tongan government announced that the internet was down, but that certain local phone services were still operational and that work was underway to restore full connectivity.
In addition, the statement stated:
- The tsunami claimed the lives of a 65-year-old woman, a 49-year-old male, and British woman Angela Glover. There have also been a handful of injuries recorded.
- Dozens of homes on Tongatapu’s main island were also damaged.
- People are being evacuated from the worst-affected islands.
- The volcanic ash has “seriously impacted” water supply.
- Flights have been halted temporarily, and maritime transportation lines have been impacted.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said it would work to keep Tonga’s Covid-free status when aid begins to arrive.
Tongan officials are worried that deliveries could spread Covid, despite the fact that the country only had its first case in October.
The United Nations said it was uncertain whether personnel could be dispatched to help, but supplies such as water and food might be transported because the main island’s port was still operational.
There have been reports of food supplies running low in stores, and deliveries have been prioritised.
The volcanic outburst on Saturday was felt as far away as the United States. Two individuals drowned in Peru due to unusually high waves, while beaches around the capital Lima were closed due to an oil spill.