More ships and aircraft carrying aid are due to arrive in Tonga in coming days as the international community responds to calls for urgent assistance from the Pacific island nation following a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.
The first flights from Australia and New Zealand landed in Tonga on Thursday with much-needed supplies of water for sanitation and hygiene as well as shelter, communication equipment and power generators.
A New Zealand maritime sustainment vessel HMNZS Aotearoa carrying 250,000 litres of water and able to produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant, is expected to arrive in Tonga on Friday.
A second Australian aid flight had to turn back on Thursday due to in-flight issues and is now expected today, the Australian High Commission in Tonga said on Facebook.
|Japan Air Self-Defense Forces's members stand in front of their C-130 Hercules carrying relief supplies to be deployed to Tonga, to help out the country devastated by a nearby eruption and tsunami, before it's take off at Komaki air base in Komaki, Japan, January 20, 2022, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Photo: Kyodo/via REUTERS|
More help is on the way with HMAS Adelaide en route from Brisbane and due in Tonga next week, it said.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano erupted with a deafening explosion on Saturday, triggering tsunamis that destroyed villages, resorts and many buildings and knocked out communications for the nation of about 105,000 people.
Three people have been reported killed, authorities said.
Ash has blanketed the archipelago and spoiled much of its drinking water.
|Australian Defence Forces members unload humanitarian assistance and engineering equipment from an aircraft at Fua'amotu International Airport, Tonga, January 20, 2022. Photo: Australian Department Of Defence/Handout via REUTERS|
United Nations spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said in a briefing that Tonga has asked for urgent assistance and the agency is in close contact with the authorities.
"Assessment teams have reached most parts of the country, including remote and isolated islands," Dujarric said.
"We remain seriously concerned about access to safe water for 50,000 people throughout the country. Water quality testing continues, and most people are relying on bottled water," he said.
Some 60,000 people have been affected by damage to crops, livestock, and fisheries due to ashfall, saltwater intrusion and the potential for acid rain, Dujarric said.
There are also reports of fuel shortages, he added.
|A New Zealand humanitarian relief supply flight is seen at Fua'amotu International Airport on the island of Tongatapu, Tonga, January 20, 2022. Photo: New Zealand High Commission, Nuku'alofa Tonga/Handout via REUTERS|
Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne said on Friday cash donations to Tonga for immediate humanitarian supplies - Australia has donated $1 million - would need to be followed with more substantial support for rebuilding.
"The impact of this volcanic eruption and the subsequent tsunami and the damage the inundation is causing will be an ongoing challenge for Tonga, particularly in relation to infrastructure," she told Australian radio, adding that New Zealand and Fiji were also working closely with Tonga.
Telephone links between Tonga and the outside world were reconnected late on Wednesday, although restoring full internet services is likely to take a month or more.
|A general view shows damaged buildings following volcanic eruption and tsunami, in Tongatapu, Tonga in this picture obtained from social media on January 21, 2022. Courtesy of Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via REUTERS|
Tongans have turned to social media to post images of the destruction by the tsunami and give accounts of their shock after the massive explosion.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has said the force of the eruption was estimated to be the equivalent of five to 10 megatons of TNT, or more than 500 times that of the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of World War Two.
|Royal New Zealand Navy Hydrographers survey the approach to Nuku'alofa in preparation for the arrival of HMNZS Aotearoa, January 20, 2022. Photo: New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS|