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First flight carrying international aid lands at Tonga airport

First flight carrying international aid lands at Tonga airport
Aircraft arrives five days after volcano eruption and tsunami, after workers managed to clean up ash from the runway

The first flight carrying fresh water and other relief material has landed in Tonga, five days after the eruption of an undersea vulkan and tsunami wave that left the Pacific island blanketed in ash.

New Zealand said its military plane landed at Tonga’s main airport in the capital Nuku’alofa on Thursday after the runway was cleared of ash that had prevented planes from landing so far.

A C-130 Hercules military transport plane left New Zealand carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment, New Zealand’s foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

The plane arrived in Tonga at 4pm local time (03:00 GMT). The authorities in Tonga have requested the relief material to be dropped in a contactless manner in order to prevent Covid infections in the island, which has so far only reported one case.

“The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” said New Zealand’s defence minister Peeni Henare.

Two more flights are due to arrive in Tonga on Sunday from Australia carrying more supplies, along with a navy patrol ship from New Zealand.

Rundt 84,000 people — more than 80 per cent of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption on Saturday, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said.

Three people have been reported dead so far with many homes lost and water bodies polluted.

Mr Dujarric said: “All houses have apparently been destroyed on the island of Mango and only two houses remain on Fonoifua island, with extensive damage reported on Nomuka.” He added that evacuations are underway for people from the islands.

According to Tongan census figures, Mango is home to 36 mennesker, Fonoifua is home to 69 mennesker, and Nomuka to 239. The majority of Tongans live on the main island of Tongatapu, where about 50 homes were destroyed.

Communication with the island nation also remains limited since the eruption and tsunami broke the single fibre-optic cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world. Some phone networks are back up and running, but restoring internet connectivity could take weeks.

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