NZ prepares to send planes, ships, supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga

by IANS |

Wellington, Jan 18 (IANS) New Zealand is ready to assist Tonga in its recovery from the massive undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami that occurred on January 15, senior government officials said on Tuesday.

"Following the successful surveillance and reconnaissance flight of a New Zealand P-3K2 Orion on Monday, imagery and details have been sent to relevant authorities in Tonga, to aid in decisions about what support is most needed," Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement.

"However, images show ashfall on the Nuku'alofa airport runway that must be cleared before a C-130 Hercules flight with humanitarian assistance can land," Xinhua news agency quoted Mahuta as saying.

In the meantime, two Royal New Zealand Navy ships will depart New Zealand on Tuesday, she said, adding that communication issues caused by the eruption have made this disaster response particularly challenging.

New Zealand has taken the decision for both navy vessels HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa to sail so they can respond quickly if called upon by the Tongan government, she said.

"HMNZS Wellington will be carrying hydrographic survey and diving teams, as well as an SH-2G(I) Seasprite helicopter. HMNZS Aotearoa will carry bulk water supplies and humanitarian and disaster relief stores," said Defence Minister Peeni Henare.

"Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 litres, and produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant," Henare said.

The survey and diving teams are able to show changes to the seabed in the shipping channels and ports. They will also assess wharf infrastructure to assure the future delivery of aid and support from the sea, he said, adding that the journey for both ships will take three days and they will return to New Zealand if not required.

A C-130 Hercules aircraft is on standby to deliver humanitarian aid and disaster relief stores including collapsible water containers, generators and hygiene kits for families once the airport runway is cleared, according to the New Zealand Defense Force.

Other deployments are possible in the next few days, subject to Tongan government requests and permissions, and Covid-19 border rules, Mahuta said.

Tonga is currently free of Covid-19 and operates strict border controls to keep the virus out.

All current support is being delivered in a contactless way. Officials are in discussions around long-term options for support, she added.

The New Zealand government has also allocated a further NZ$500,000 in humanitarian assistance, taking its initial funding total to NZ$1 million.

Tsunami waves hit Tonga on January 15. The tsunami followed a series of violent eruptions from underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, 65 km north of the country's main island Tongatapu.

New Zealand has pledged to provide support for Tonga following the volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves crashing onto the Pacific island.

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