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Tsunami has severely damaged three of Tonga’s smaller islands

SYDNEY, (AP) -- Three smaller islands in Tonga were severely damaged by tsunami waves, officials from the Red Cross and the Red Cross reported Wednesday. This comes as more information begins to emerge about the damage caused by an eruption of an underwater volcano near the Pacific archipelago country.

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Tsunami has severely damaged three of Tonga’s smaller islands

Communication has been disrupted in Tonga following Saturday's eruption. However, a ship reached the far-flung islands of Nomuka and Mango on Wednesday and reported that very few houses were left standing after the tsunami. Katie Greenwood, head of the Pacific delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was on board the vessel to assess the damage.

In an interview from Fiji, she said that "very unfortunate information" had been revealed about three islands that were very concerned about. She explained to The Associated Press that the incoming waves have caused them all to suffer devastating effects. "Most structures and dwellings of those islands were completely destroyed."

Tonga is still unsure what kind of assistance the international community will provide. This is compounded by its concern about the spread COVID-19. Tonga has kept the virus out of its borders, with the exception of one case that was reported to New Zealand by a traveler in October.

Greenwood stated that Tonga hopes for "almost complete disaster relief" to protect its citizens. He acknowledged that this could complicate efforts, but it is understandable given the pandemic.

She said, "They don't want one disaster to be exchanged for another."

According to Our World in Data, 60% of the 106,000 Tongais have already received two doses COVID vaccines, while nearly 70% have received at most one dose.

New Zealand has sent two ships to New Zealand in anticipation of the country's demands. The first ship is carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 galallons) of water, as well as a desalination station with the ability to produce 70,000 additional liters per day. Another ship is bringing a survey team and diving team to assess the damage to wharf infrastructure, ports, and shipping channels.

They are expected to arrive in three to four working days, but one estimate is that they could arrive as soon as Friday, according to Peeni Henare (New Zealand's defense minister).

He said, "We don’t know the shipping lanes and so we want, of course, to proceed with a little caution as we get closer the Tongan islands."

Nanaia Mahuta, New Zealand's Foreign Minister, stated that the teams on route would also be available to assist with the evacuation of approximately 150 people living on the outlying islands.

She said, "We are ready to help where it is helpful to the government in Tonga and where they are satisfied using COVID protocols."

Australia is also planning to send assistance by ship and air. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that he would talk to his counterpart in Tonga on Wednesday to better understand the situation.

He said, "Our defense forces have remained in operation and are now deploying as directed." "So, we are deeply sorry for the Tonga family."

The volcano engulfed the main island with a 2-centimeter (0.78 in) thick layer of ash. This has made the runway at Fua'amotu International Airport, 2.6 km (1.6 mi) unusable.

Volunteers worked to remove ash to make a path for aid planes, and there was hope that it might be available as soon as Thursday.

Mahuta stated that the runway was not believed to have been damaged by the ash but that it would be impossible to know until all was cleared.

New Zealand's reconnaissance aircraft flew over the impacted islands, providing data to Tonga's government.

Communications were severely limited due to the loss of the underwater fiber-optic cable connecting Tonga with the rest of the globe. According to the company that owns the cable, repairs could take several weeks.

Satellite images captured the amazing eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano. A plume of ash and steam rose like a mushroom high above the South Pacific. It is approximately 64 km (40 miles) from Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital.

Satellite communications were also affected by the high levels of ash in air, but this is changing, Greenwood stated.

It seems that the country has so far avoided the devastation widespread fears.

Tuesday's announcement by the government confirmed three deaths, two in British and one in local. However, it cautioned that the death toll could rise as more reports are received from faraway areas.

The biggest problem on Tongatapu island, Tonga, is the ash that has turned it into a gray moonscape. This has contaminated the rainwater that the people rely upon to drink.

Greenwood stated that people were warned to ensure their water supply was protected in advance and that clean drinking water is still a top priority.

She stated that water is 100 percent the priority at this time along with shelter requirements.

She said that Tonga's Red Cross has already distributed shelter kits and other supplies to about 20 people with 100 volunteers.

Koniseti Liutai (Deputy President of the Tonga Australia Chamber of Commerce) stated that his organization provided free shipping containers to members of the Tongan community who needed to send their loved ones back home.

He said that they were addressing specific needs, such as those of the elderly and disabled.

He said, "We know that Australia, New Zealand, and Tonga are dealing with food and water." "We are trying to be more specific for family needs."

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