Thick ash on an airport runway has delayed aid deliveries to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, where significant damage is being reported days after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami.
New Zealand’s military is sending much-needed drinking water and other supplies to Tonga after a devastating tsunami but said the ash on the runway will delay the flight at least a day.
A towering ash cloud since Saturday’s eruption had prevented earlier flights. New Zealand also sent a navy ship to Tonga Tuesday with another planned to leave later in the day and pledged an initial 1 million New Zealand dollars ($680,000) toward recovery efforts.
Australia has sent a navy ship from Sydney to Brisbane to prepare for a support mission if needed.
HMAS Adelaide departed Sydney, and is set to arrive in Brisbane on Wednesday to be loaded with humanitarian and disaster relief supplies, along with critical equipment to help recovery efforts.
It’s expected the voyage to Tonga will take five days, and the ship will serve as a base for relief work.
The Australian mission will also help repair vital underwater telecommunication cables that were damaged in the disaster.
Communications with Tonga have been extremely limited, but New Zealand and Australia sent military surveillance flights to assess the damage on Monday, with aerial photos showing the vibrant Tongan landscape transformed by the ash into a gray moonscape.
U.N. humanitarian officials and Tonga’s government “report significant infrastructural damage around Tongatapu,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“There has been no contact from the Ha’apai Group of islands, and we are particularly concerned about two small low-lying islands — Mango and Fonoi — following surveillance flights confirming substantial property damage,” Dujarric said.
One complicating factor to the mission is that Tonga has managed to avoid outbreaks of COVID-19. New Zealand said its military staff was vaccinated and willing to follow Tonga’s protocols.
New Zealand’s military said it hoped the airfield in Tonga would be opened either Wednesday or Thursday. The military said it had considered an airdrop but that was “not the preference of the Tongan authorities.”
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