Tonga was virtually cut off from the rest of the world Monday after a massive volcanic blast that crippled communications with the Pacific island nation, and experts warned internet connection may not be fully restored for weeks.
It is two days since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haa’pai volcano exploded, cloaking Tonga in ash, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and releasing shock waves that wrapped around the entire Earth.
But still neighbouring countries and international agencies are clambering to try to grasp the scale of the damage, with New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern stating Sunday it is believed to be “significant”.
Wellington and Canberra scrambled reconnaissance planes in an attempt to get a sense of the damage from the air on Monday, with both also putting C-130 military transport aircraft on standby to drop emergency supplies or to land if runways are deemed operational.
What is known is that the volcanic blast Saturday seriously damaged the ash-covered capital Nuku’alofa and severed an undersea communications cable — which could take two weeks to restore.
The eruption was recorded around the world and heard as far away as Alaska, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States.
“We know water is an immediate need,” Ardern told reporters.
She added New Zealand was relying on satellite phones to communicate with the island nation that is home to some 100,000 people.
The reconnaissance flights would help to advise Tonga’s government of the scale of the volcanic and tsunami damage and help to identify aid needs, Ardern added.
The premier, who has spoken to the New Zealand embassy in Tonga, has described how boats and “large boulders” washed ashore north of Nuku’alofa.
Wellington’s defence minister said he understood the island nation had managed to restore power in “large parts” of the city.
Crippled communications left Tongans outside of the country desperate for news of loved ones.
“I cannot raise my family, there is no communication,” Filipo Motulalo, a journalist with Pacific Media Network, told AFP.
“Our home is among those close to the area that was flooded already so we don’t know how much damage there is.”
Motulalo said many Tongans abroad were worried.