Aid finally reaches Tonga after major volcano eruption

The first international aid has finally arrived in Tonga, five days after the devastating volcanic eruption and resulting tsunami, ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports

The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga finally arrived on Thursday after the island’s main airport runway was cleared of ash.

New Zealand and Australia each sent military transport planes that were carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment.

The Australian plane also had a special sweeper to help keep the runway clear.

Water supplies in particular have been severely impacted by the volcanic eruption last weekend and key communication cables have been cut.

A damaged area in Nuku’alofa, Tonga Credit: AP

The deliveries were dropped off without military personnel coming in contact with people at the airport to minimise any risk of spreading Covid in a country that has only ever recorded one case.

Rear Admiral James Gilmour, commander of New Zealand's Joint Forces, said there had been a “mammoth effort” by Tongan troops “to clear that runway by hand”, which they achieved on Thursday afternoon.

Japan also said it is sending emergency relief, including drinking water and equipment for cleaning away volcanic ash.

Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters his ministry “will do everything we can for the disaster-hit people of Tonga.”

A member of Japan's Air Self-Defense Force carries a box into an airplane at an airbase in Komaki, central Japan. Credit: AP

UN humanitarian officials report about 84,000 people – more than 80% of Tonga’s population – have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption, with three deaths, injuries, loss of homes and polluted water.

Communications with Tonga remain limited after Saturday's eruption and tsunami appeared to have broken the single fibre-optic cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world.

That means most people haven’t been able to use the internet or make phone calls abroad, although some local phone networks are still working.

One phone company, Digicel, said on Thursday it had managed to restore the ability to make international calls from some places by using a satellite link, but that people would need to be patient due to high demand.

Inspecting pallets of aid bound for Tonga on a Royal Australian Air Force. Credit: AP

It said it hoped to enhance its service over the coming days.

A navy patrol ship from New Zealand is also expected to arrive later Thursday. It is carrying hydrographic equipment and divers, and also has a helicopter to assist with delivering supplies.

Officials said the ship's first task would be to check shipping channels and the structural integrity of the wharf in the capital, Nuku'alofa, following the eruption and tsunami.

A part of Tonga Before and after the explosion. Credit: Maxar Technologies

Another New Zealand navy ship carrying 250,000 litres of water is on its way. The ship can also produce tens of thousands of litres of fresh water each day using a desalination plant.

Three of Tonga’s smaller islands suffered serious damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said.

But Tonga has so far avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.