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After a major volcano eruption, first aid flights land in Tonga

WELLINGTON (New Zealand) -- Thursday saw the arrival of Tonga's first flight carrying water and other aid. The runway at Tonga's main airport was cleared by ash from a massive volcanic eruption.

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After a major volcano eruption, first aid flights land in Tonga

New Zealand and Australia sent military transport planes to each other that carried water containers, temporary shelter kits, generators and hygiene supplies. To keep the runway clean, the Australian plane had a sweeper.

The military personnel did not come in contact with anyone at Tonga's airport to drop off the deliveries. Tonga wants to ensure that foreigners don’t infect themselves with the coronavirus. Since the outbreak, there have been no COVID-19 cases in Tonga.

Rear Adm. James Gilmour was the commander of New Zealand’s Joint Forces. He said that Tongan troops had made a "mammoth effort to clear that runway manually." They have achieved this today.

Australia stated that the aid would enable Tonga to meet its immediate needs and support the cleanup effort.

Japan also stated that it will send emergency assistance, including water and equipment to clean up volcanic ash. The Defense Ministry stated that two C-130 Hercules aircraft departed Thursday evening and that a transport vessel with two CH-47 Chinook helicopters was due to depart shortly after it arrives.

Nobuo Kishi, Defense Minister, told reporters that his ministry would do all it could to help the Tonga disaster-stricken people.

U.N. officials have reported that 84,000 people, more than 80% of Tonga’s population, were affected by the eruption of the volcano. Stephane Dujarric, U.N. spokesperson, said that three deaths, injuries and loss of homes had been recorded.

Communication with Tonga remains limited following Saturday's tsunami and eruption that appeared to have cut the single fiber-optic cable connecting Tonga with the rest. This means that most people aren't able to access the internet or make calls abroad. However, some local networks remain functional.

Digicel, a phone company, claimed Thursday that it had restored international calling capability from certain places using satellite links, but that customers would need patience due to high demand. It stated that it would continue to improve its service in the coming days.

An additional navy patrol ship from New Zealand is expected to arrive on Thursday. It is equipped with hydrographic equipment, divers, and a helicopter for delivering supplies.

Officials stated that the ship's first task was to inspect shipping channels and assess the structural integrity of Nuku'alofa's wharf after the tsunami and eruption.

Another New Zealand navy vessel carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 galallons) of water, is currently on its way. The desalination plant can produce thousands of liters per day.

Officials and the Red Cross reported that three of Tonga’s smaller islands were severely damaged by tsunami waves.

Dujarric, U.N., stated that "all houses appear to have been destroyed on the Island of Mango" and that only two houses are left on Fonoifua. There has been extensive damage on Nomuka. He also said that evacuations are being conducted for those who live on the islands.

Tongan census data show that Mango has 36 inhabitants, Fonoifua has 69, and Nomuka has 239. Tongans mainly live on Tongatapu's main island, where 50 homes were destroyed.

Dujarric stated that the most urgent humanitarian needs are safe water and food, while top priorities include reestablishing communication services, including international calls.

Tonga has not yet suffered the devastation widespread that many had feared.

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