As aid pours into the South Pacific nation of Tonga, devastated by a volcanic eruption and tsunami, an Australian aid flight was forced to return to base due to a positive case of Covid-19 in edge.
Tonga is Covid-free and has a strict border control policy, and requires contactless delivery of aid which started arriving by plane yesterday.
The Australian aid flight left Brisbane yesterday afternoon but turned back after being told of the positive Covid-19 case, an Australian defense spokeswoman has said.
All the crew had returned negative rapid antigen tests before departure, but PCR tests later showed the positive result. The supplies were moved to another flight which took off this morning.
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano last Saturday triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages, resorts and many buildings and cut communications for the nation of around 105,000 people, and sent shock waves and a tsunami across the Pacific.
Three people were reportedly killed, authorities said.
It has been almost a week since the eruption and Tongans are struggling to find drinking water with their island homes shrouded in volcanic ash.
“We’ve been cleaning up the ashes and have been since Monday,” said Branko Sugar, 61, who runs a bottle shop and fishing charter business from the capital Nuku’alofa.
“Everything is so dusty and we are running out of water,” he said.
“We only have tap water, and it’s been contaminated. We’re just cleaning, cleaning, cleaning and we can barely breathe because of all the dust.”
The first humanitarian aid flights from Australia and New Zealand landed in Tonga yesterday with much-needed water supplies for sanitation and hygiene as well as shelter, communications equipment and generators.
A New Zealand maritime support vessel HMNZS Aotearoa carrying 250,000 liters of water and capable of producing 70,000 liters per day from a desalination plant, is due to arrive today.
The Australian HMAS Adelaide en route from Brisbane is due to arrive in Tonga next week.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told a press briefing that Tonga had requested emergency assistance and the agency was in close contact with the authorities.
“Assessment teams have reached most parts of the country, including remote and isolated islands,” Dujarric said.
“We remain seriously concerned about access to clean water for 50,000 people across the country. Water quality testing continues and most people rely on bottled water,” he said. -he declares.
Some 60,000 people were affected by damage to crops, livestock and fisheries due to ashfall, saltwater intrusion and the potential for acid rain, Dujarric said.
Fuel shortages have also been reported, he added.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said cash donations to Tonga for immediate humanitarian supplies – Australia donated $1 million – should be followed by more substantial reconstruction support .
“The impact of this volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami and the damage caused by the flooding will be an ongoing challenge for Tonga, particularly with regard to infrastructure,” she told Australian radio. .
Telephone links between Tonga and the outside world were restored late Wednesday, although full restoration of internet services is likely to take a month or more.
Tongans took to social media to post images of the tsunami destruction and report their shock after the massive blast.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said the force of the eruption was estimated to be the equivalent of five to ten megatons of TNT, more than 500 times that of the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on Earth. Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of World War II.