WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga arrived yesterday after the Pacific nation’s main airport runway was cleared of ash left by a huge volcanic eruption.
New Zealand and Australia each sent military transport planes that were carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment. The Australian plane also had a special sweeper to help keep the runway clear.
The deliveries were dropped off without the military personnel coming in contact with people at the airport in Tonga. That’s because Tonga is desperate to make sure foreigners don’t bring in the coronavirus. It has not had any outbreaks of COVID-19 and has reported just a single case since the pandemic began.
Rear Admiral James Gilmour, the commander of New Zealand’s Joint Forces, said there had been a “mammoth effort” by Tongan troops “to clear that runway by hand. And they’ve achieved that this afternoon”.
Australia said the assistance would help Tonga’s government meet the community’s needs and support the immediate clean-up efforts.
Japan also said it would send emergency relief, including drinking water and equipment for cleaning away volcanic ash. Two C-130 Hercules aircraft and a transport vessel carrying two CH-47 Chinook helicopters would leave possibly yesterday, the Defence Ministry said.
Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters that his ministry “will do everything we can for the disaster-hit people of Tonga”.
United Nations (UN) humanitarian officials report that about 84,000 people – more than 80 per cent of Tonga’s population – have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, pointing to three deaths, injuries, loss of homes and polluted water.