Experts warn that about 100,000 people living in the country could be cut off from the internet for several weeks.
Two days ago the eruption of the Hanga Tonga-Hunga Ha’bai volcano covered Tonga in ashes, triggering a Pacific-scale tsunami that killed two people in Peru by a hurricane.
Neighboring countries and international organizations continue to assess the extent of the damage. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Artern said on Sunday they were “significant”.
New Zealand and Australia sent spy planes on Monday to assess the damage and made C-130 military transport planes to drop or land supplies if the runways were deemed operational.
Saturday’s volcanic eruption severely damaged the ash-covered capital, Nuku’aloba, and severed an underwater communications cable that could take two weeks to recover.
The eruption was felt as far as Alaska, thus reaching the Pacific coast from Japan to the United States.
“We know there is an immediate need for water,” Artern told reporters, adding that New Zealand relies on satellite phones to communicate with the country.
Artern added that the spy planes would help the Tongan government report the extent of the damage caused by the volcano and tsunami and identify assistance needs.
Speaking to the New Zealand embassy in Tonga, the Prime Minister described boats and “large boulders” plying off the north coast of Nuku’aloba.
The New Zealand Defense Minister explained that for his part the island nation was able to restore electricity to “large areas” of the city.
– “We know nothing” –
With communication stalled, Tongan people outside the country are actively trying to talk to their loved ones.
“I could not contact my family, no contact,” Filibo Modulalo, a journalist with the Pacific Media Network, told AFP. “Our house is already in the vicinity of the flooded area so we don’t know how much damage was done,” he said.
Modulalo said many Tongan people abroad are worried. “The worst thing is the darkness and we know nothing,” he said.
Many people worry about the elderly facing the volcanic dusty air.
Southern Cross Cable Network Network Director Dean Weverka told AFP the Internet could be down for two weeks.
“We are getting false information, but the cable seems to be disconnected,” he said. “Repairs can take up to two weeks.”
Southern Cross is a subsidiary of Tonga Cable Ltd., which owns the 872-kilometer cable that connects the island nation to Fiji and from there to the rest of the world.
It was initially believed that the failure was due to a power outage after the explosion. However, subsequent testing after the power supply was restored revealed a break in the cable.
Tonga was already cut off for two weeks in 2019 when the ship’s anchor severed the cable. To allow minimal contact with the outside world, a small domestically operated satellite service was established.
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