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January 21, 2022

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Tonga finally gets aid after 5 desperate days

The first emergency supply aircraft reached Tonga yesterday, five days after a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami, as dispersed communities awaited the arrival of a ship with equipment to scale up supplies of drinking water.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules landed at the South Pacific island nation’s Fua’amotu International Airport, a defense spokesperson said, after a blanket of volcanic ash was cleared off the runway.

The ash has spoiled much of the archipelago’s drinking water.

An Australian Globemaster C-17A military transporter also landed, with a second Australian aircraft due to make the flight last night.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the Globemaster was loaded with supplies including desalination equipment, shelter, kitchens and a sweeper to help remove ash from the airport.

“The C-17A flight today was made possible thanks to the tireless efforts of Tongan authorities who have worked to clear a thick layer of volcanic ash from the runway,” he said in a statement.

The New Zealand aircraft was carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

The delivery of the supplies brought in by both aircraft was contactless to ensure Tonga remains free of the coronavirus.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted with a deafening explosion on Saturday, triggering tsunamis that killed at least three people and destroyed villages, resorts and many buildings and knocked out communications for the nation of about 105,000.

Rachael Moore, Australia’s high commissioner to Tonga, said the loss of property was “catastrophic,” and drinking water was “an extremely high priority.”

The first of two New Zealand navy ships also arrived yesterday, its High Commission said. The second, carrying 250,000 liters of water and desalination equipment that can produce 70,000 liters a day, is due today. The High Commission said it would check shipping channels and wharf approaches.

In a radio address, Tonga’s King Tupou VI urged courage and hard work for rebuilding.


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