20 January 2022
The first international relief flight to Tonga since last week's volcanic eruption is due to arrive in the kingdom.
A New Zealand Defence Force's C-130 Hercules carrying aid supplies left from Whenuapai airbase just before midday and is scheduled to land at Fua'amotu International Airport this afternoon.
The ash covered runway in Tonga was cleared by hand yesterday but the situation is fluid and could still change.
Emergency supplies onboard the aircraft include food and water, generators, hygiene kits and collapsible water containers.
Earlier today, Defence Minister Peeni Henare told Morning Report once this first international aid flight was successfully completed, up to two flights a day could be conducted.
Tongan diaspora still struggling to contact loved ones
Telecommunication outages in the Kingdom continue to cause grief for the Tongan diaspora with many still unable to reach their loved ones back home.
Tonga rugby coach Toutai Kefu told RNZ Pacific not knowing if his family and friends were okay is distressing.
"Just not knowing was really really scary. Honestly we just kept praying and had our fingers crossed that everyone would pull through safe," Toutai Kefu said.
Kefu said while he had not been able to contact anyone on the ground he is elated for those who have.
"I was just speaking to a friend in NZ who spoke to his mum and dad early this morning, he told me people on Digicel phones can get through but if they are on other networks they are unable to get through," Toutai Kefu said.
A Tongan student at the University of the South Pacific said she also fears for her family's safety after losing communication with them just moments after the volcanic eruption last weekend.
Tupou Vauatau Mafi said she was on the telephone with her family in Tofoa Tongatapu, when the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha'apai volcano erupted.
The 27-year-old said her younger brother and sister were terrified. She has not heard from her family since.
"We are very aware of the true danger that is lurking behind all this good news, but we chose to be hopeful and to hold on to the good news that comes," Tupou Vauatau Mafin said.
There are 200 Tongan students at the USP campus in Suva.
Networks slowly being restored
Mobile phone company Digicel has confirmed re-establishing communications between Tonga and the rest of the world.
But links are still limited with the largest mobile company, UCALL, still down.
Digicel lines have been clogged with heavy traffic, leaving many still unable to get through to loved ones.
Meanwhile, a cable repair ship, the Reliance, will be leaving Papua New Guinea for Samoa over the weekend enroute to Tonga.
Repair work on the Tonga undersea cable during the last internet blackout in 2019. Photo: Twitter/ @tongaportal
The Kingdom's undersea high-speed internet cable was damaged during the volcanic eruptions cutting off internet access.
Tonga Cable Ltd Chair Samiuela Fonua said the company is satisfied with the progress so far of getting the repair vessel onsite.
"We have got the plan of work now for the cable vessel. They are preparing now and they are planning to leave Papua New Guinea on the 21st. It will take about eight to nine days and they will probably reach Samoa on the 30th," Samiuela Fonua said.
Fonua said the vessel will wait in Samoa for clearance from the Tonga government before entering the kingdom.
More help on the way for Tonga
More overseas aid is being directed towards Tonga as the country struggles to find its feet after the weekend's volcanic eruption.
The United States aid agency, USAID, is providing immediate funds of $US100,000.
USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance is also working to address emergency shelter needs, to provide safe drinking water, hygiene kits, and other necessity
Also, a third navy ship will be sent to sent to Tonga tomorrow to aid in the relief efforts following theweekend's eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano.
HMNZS Canterbury will leave on Saturday with two NH90 helicopters on board.
Offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington is expected to arrive in Tonga later today.
"The Wellington's first task will be to check shipping channels and wharf approaches to Tonga's port to ensure vessels can go alongside, and check the structural integrity of the wharf," Minister of Defence Peeni Henare said.
The ship is carrying hydrographic and dive personnel and also has a seasprite helicopter to assist with supply delivery.
Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules is due to arrive at 4pm today.
Late last night WHO liaison officer in Tonga Dr Yutaro Setoya, who is in Nuku'alofa, confirmed the Fua'amotu International Airport runway had been cleared of ash.
"The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment," Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta said.
Arriving tomorrow is HMNZS Aotearoa, which has bulk water supplies on board, as well as other supplies.
"Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga, and the Aotearoa can carry 250,000 litres, and produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant," Mahuta said.
"We are talking to Tonga about what more they need from us and we can assure them of our ongoing support."
Source – Radio New Zealand.
I thank New Zealand especially for aiding Tonga in its time of great need with humanitarian relief aid.
My thanks also to the US aid agency for the much needed help as well.