- Tonga’s outer islands suffered catastrophic damage
- Buildings destroyed or washed away, official record two
- Tonga Navy says waves of 5 to 10 meters (15 to 30 feet) hit the island
- Airport closed, hampering international aid efforts
- Australia and New Zealand to send aid
SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The small outer islands of Tonga suffered extensive damage following a massive volcanic eruption and tsunami, with an entire village destroyed and many buildings missing, a source said. a Tongan diplomat on Tuesday, raising fears of more deaths and injuries.
“People are panicking, running and hurting themselves. There may be more deaths and we are praying that this is not the case,” Tonga’s deputy head of mission to Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, told Reuters. .
Tu’ihalangingie said footage taken by New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) reconnaissance flights showed “alarming” scenes of a destroyed village on Mango Island and missing buildings on the neighboring island of Atata.
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Police in Tonga told the New Zealand High Commission the confirmed death toll was two, but with communications cut across the South Pacific island nation, the true extent of casualties was not known. Claire.
Australian Pacific Minister Zed Seselja said Tongan authorities were hoping to evacuate residents of the isolated, low-lying island group of Ha’apai and other outer islands where conditions were “very difficult, we understand, with many houses destroyed by the tsunami”. .
The United Nations previously reported that a distress signal had been detected in Ha’apai, where Mango is located. The Tongan Navy reported that the area had been hit by waves estimated at 5 to 10 meters (15 to 30 feet) high, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
Atata and Mango lie between about 50 and 70 km from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and was heard about 2,300 km (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand when it broke out on Saturday.
Atata has a population of about 100 people and Mango about 50 people.
“It’s very alarming to see that the wave may have crossed Atata from one end to the other,” Tu’ihalangingie said.
NZDF footage, unofficially posted on a Facebook site and confirmed by Tu’ihalangingie, also showed tarpaulins being used for shelter on Mango Island.
British national Angela Glover, 50, was killed in the tsunami as she tried to rescue dogs she was caring for at a rescue shelter, her brother said, the first known death in the disaster.
A thick layer of ash covers the islands, aerial images provided to Tonga by New Zealand and Australia showed.
The archipelago’s main airport, Fua’amotu International Airport, was undamaged in Saturday’s eruption and tsunami, but heavy ashfall is preventing full operations, hampering efforts international relief.
The UN humanitarian office said Tongan officials had said clearing the runway would take days as it was being done manually, with the first opening on Wednesday.
Residents on the west coast of the main island of Tongatapu have been evacuated due to “extensive damage”, OCHA added in an update, while government ministers issued radio warnings of rising temperatures. prices due to fears of supply shortages.
The New Zealand Foreign Ministry said two ships, HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, left New Zealand with bulk water supplies, survey teams and a helicopter.
Tonga is expected to make its formal requests for aid today, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
C-130 flights from Australia could deliver humanitarian aid, including water purification supplies, she said, while HMAS Adelaide, which would take five days to arrive by sea, was prepared to transport technical and medical personnel and helicopter support for distribution.
“The impact of not just the flooding, but the extraordinary volume of ash covering everything, plus communication issues, of course, makes this very difficult,” she said.
International mobile phone network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on the main island using the University of the South Pacific’s satellite dish, New Zealand said.
ANZ said the bank’s Nuku’alofa branch is open for limited services, although drinking water supplies and communication have been a major challenge for the bank.
The archipelago has remained largely cut off from the world since the eruption cut its main undersea communications cable.
Subcom, a private US-based company responsible for repairing various submarine cables in Asia-Pacific, said it was working with Tonga Cable Ltd to repair the cable that runs from Tonga to Fiji.
Samiuela Fonua, president of Tonga Cable, said there were two cuts in the undersea cable that would not be repaired until volcanic activity ceased, allowing repair crews access.
“The state of the site is still quite messy at the moment,” Fonua told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
The island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, all but disappeared after the explosion, according to satellite images taken about 12 hours later, making it difficult for volcanologists to monitor activity.
Tonga is a kingdom of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited, with a population of 104,494 people.
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Reporting by Jane Wardell, Praveen Menon and Kirsty Needham, writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Richard Pullin, Michael Perry, Robert Birsel
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