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International Aid Starts to Arrive in Tsunami-Hit Tonga

This photo provided by Broadcom Broadcasting shows a damaged area in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, Jan. 20, 2022, after Saturday's volcanic eruption near the Pacific archipelago.

An aid flight landed in Tonga on Thursday, the first since an undersea volcano triggered devastating tsunami waves. A New Zealand military Hercules brought water containers, temporary shelters and generators. Australian planes will also deliver essential supplies.

So far, just three fatalities have been reported after Saturday’s disaster in Tonga, a South Pacific archipelago that lies about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand.

The damage to property and infrastructure is reported to be immense, though.

Aerial pictures taken by the New Zealand air force show several villages have been wiped out on some islands.

Hundreds of volunteers and members of the Tongan defense force have been clearing ash and other debris from the runway at the main airport, allowing international aid to arrive.

Satellite communications have been restored, but other telephone and internet networks could take up to a month to repair because of damage to an undersea communications cable.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corp., Rachael Moore, Australia’s high commissioner to Tonga, assessed the impact of the disaster.

“These places are devastated,” she said. “They are described as a moonscape, and you might have seen some photos of that. So, the fact that the Tongan government was able to support the people and the Tongan people knew what to do in the case of a tsunami has meant that the loss of life and the number of serious injuries is small. But the loss to property is catastrophic.”

Two New Zealand navy ships are due to arrive Friday carrying water and other essential supplies, as well as engineers and helicopters.

Distributing supplies is further complicated by the need to maintain COVID-19 protocols. Tonga has recorded just a single case of coronavirus. Tongan and New Zealand officials have been working out how foreign assistance can be delivered in a contactless way.

Tonga has an estimated population of 100,000. There are large expatriate communities in Australia and New Zealand.