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Fri, Jan 21, 2022

Tonga Relief Efforts Hampered by Ash Deposits

Volcanic Eruption Douses Airfields with Thick, Volcanic Effluvium

New Zealand Rescue and relief efforts for Tonga's volcano-affected areas have been hampered by ash-covered landing zones, leading to difficulties in making deliveries and repairing communications throughout the region.

As of January 19th, a World Health Organization representative has said the Fua'amotu International Airport in Nuku'alofa has been cleared for operation once again. Extensive damage throughout the islands have led authorities to believe internet connectivity will not be restored to the region for at least a month, as the primary tap for Tonga was severed. 

Experts are still analyzing the root of the underwater eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano that erupted on January 15th, but its effects were readily seen as a plume of smoke blasted from under the water after a week of smoldering. The eruption caused a tsunami that that quickly made its way ashore, hammering portions of the Polynesian island nation. The waves were sufficiently strong, that even portions of California received some minor flooding. 

The tsunami knocked out communications in many areas, leaving authorities in the dark as to the extent of the damage, particularly in the more far-flung, remote islands. The usual disaster relief is necessary, but ash from the eruption made it difficult to bring in equipment and supplies. For Fua'amotu airport, over 200 personnel were required to sweep only 330 feet of ash from the runway. Hundreds of volunteers, workers, and Tongan defense force personnel have cleared the debris off the runway by hand. The WHO liaison has said the bulk of humanitarian flights have received the all clearn, beginning with a New Zealand Defense Force C-130 Hercules with water, hygiene kits, and food, soon to be followed by similar loads from Australian Air Force planes.


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