Australia and New Zealand deployed surveillance aircraft on Monday to assess the damage caused by a massive underwater volcano in the Pacific nation of Tonga and today (18 January) continue to position relief supplies to aid survivors. The Australian Defence Force said it is supporting the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) coordinated mission to support the Government of Tonga following the eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano on 15 January. Landing Helicopter Dock HMAS Adelaide departed Fleet Base East in Sydney on Monday. Defence is pre-positioning HMAS Adelaide to Brisbane to provide additional Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) support if requested by the by the government of Tonga.
“We’re helping our friends in #Tonga following the recent volcanic eruption. One of our P-8 Poseidons has left RAAF Base Amberley to assist the Tonga Government by assessing damage to critical infrastructure such as roads, ports and power lines,” the Royal Australian Air Force said on Twitter.
The country’s Foreign Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne also announced $1 million in humanitarian assistance for Tonga and said Australia is ready to send more assistance. “Will provide an initial package of $1m to meet urgent humanitarian requests from Tonga & is ready to provide further assistance in partnership with (Tonga)’s Government,” Payne said on Twitter. She added that the Australian Air Force was assessing the volcano and tsunami damage in Tonga.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Defence Ministry said a P-3K2 Orion aircraft had departed on Monday morning to check the status of the runway and port. It added that New Zealand would deliver aid on Tuesday if the runway was confirmed to be safe and aircraft could land. “We have placed personnel on shortened notices to move and Royal New Zealand Navy ships are being readied for deployment and may deploy ahead of a formal request for assistance, given the distance to Tonga. Further military flights are also possible, to transport relief supplies and personnel as required,” the ministry said.
According to Australian media, the volcano eruption has cut internet and other communications with the Pacific nation. Due to the internet disconnection, even official websites and other means of communications have remained silent since Sunday, ABC News reported. The volcano, located 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa, had begun spewing ash, steam, and gas on Friday morning.
Media reports Monday and early Tuesday said a distress signal has been detected in an isolated, low-lying group of islands in the Tonga archipelago following Saturday’s massive volcanic eruption and tsunami, the United Nations said, prompting particular concern for its inhabitants. Initial reports suggested no mass casualties on the main island of Togatapu, but two people were reported missing and the capital Nuku’alofa was badly damaged, as were resorts and homes along the island’s western beaches, reports said.