The first international assistance planes have landed in Tonga, bringing desperately needed supplies to the Pacific nation ravaged by a volcano explosion and ensuing tsunami on Saturday.
After workers cleaned ash from the runway, New Zealand’s military plane arrived at Tonga’s main airport.
Australia also verified the arrival of the first of its rescue flights.
The ash from the volcano had originally impeded aid attempts.
New Zealand’s Defence Force stated on Thursday that its C-130 Hercules plane landed in Tonga shortly after 16:00 local time (03:00 GMT). Water containers, temporary shelter kits, electrical generators, hygiene and family supplies, and communications equipment were among the items on board.
Following that, Australian defence minister Peter Dutton tweeted that the first plane dispatched by the Australian Defence Forces had landed with “humanitarian help and disaster relief materials.”
The first of Australia’s two Boeing C-17 Globemaster relief planes was equipped with a “sweeping” gear to help keep the runway free.
For days, rescue crews and hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly to clear a heavy layer of ash off the airport runway in Nuku’alofa, which had prohibited planes from landing.
Volunteers utilised wheelbarrows and shovels in a “mammoth effort,” according to New Zealand’s commander of combined forces, Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour.
“All of Tonga immediately turned grey after the eruption,” Tongan journalist Marian Kupu told from the capital, Nuku’alofa. “We’re talking about pets, automobiles, and structures, all of which were coated in ashes.”
The thickness of the ashfall, according to Ms Kupu, made clearing the runway “challenging” and posed a health risk to those working on it, who were “primarily young guys.”
The assistance drops will be contactless, according to Australian and New Zealand officials, to avoid the possibility of Covid spreading to the island, which has only seen one instance of the virus so far in the pandemic.
New Zealand’s Defence Minister Peeni Henare stated, “The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand.”
No-contact Covid regulations are “being strictly followed,” according to Rear Adm Gilmour, who added that relief procedures will involve ensuring that the plane crew has no contact with anyone on the ground and that everyone is wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We understand that a Covid epidemic on top of this calamity is the last thing Tonga needs right now,” he continued.
No Australian servicemen will disembark from their planes, according to the country.
Tonga’s contact is still limited. Digicel, a telecommunications operator, has restored a 2G connection, but the line is being overloaded by demand.
It could take weeks to repair the major underwater cable that connects the tiny island nation to the rest of the world.
The magnitude of the damage, including cars, roads, and buildings in Nuku’alofa coated in ash, was recently shown in photos supplied by Tonga’s consulate in the European Union.
Meanwhile, aerial photographs captured by the New Zealand Air Force show that some villages on yet-to-be-reached islands have been wiped out.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted, sending shockwaves as far 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.