A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules has departed for Tonga carrying aid supplies as New Zealand’s aid effort ramps up for the embattled island nation following the January 15 volcanic eruption.
“The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment,” said Foreign Affairs Minister, Nanaia Mahuta.
“The delivery of supplies will be contactless and the aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” added Defence Minister, Peeni Henare.
The aircraft is due to arrive in Tonga at approximately 4pm NZ time. The Ministers said no aircraft had been able to land before now due to the runway being covered in volcanic ash.
UN officials report that 84,000 residents – more than 80% of Tonga’s population – have been impacted by the eruption.
HMNZS Wellington is also expected to arrive in Tonga later today. It is carrying hydrographic and dive personnel and a Seasprite helicopter to assist with supply delivery.
“The Wellington’s first task will be to check shipping channels and wharf approaches to Tonga’s port to ensure vessels can go alongside, and check the structural integrity of the wharf,” Peeni Henare said.
Meanwhile, the maritime sustainment vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa, has bulk water supplies on board, as well as other supplies, and is expected to arrive in Tonga tomorrow.
“Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga, and the Aotearoa can carry 250,000 litres, and produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant,” Ms Mahuta said.
New Zealand is standing by to offer further assistance, she said.
“We are talking to Tonga about what more they need from us and we can assure them of our ongoing support.”
“We are also preparing to deploy HMNZS Canterbury, with two NH90 helicopters on board, which is planning to leave on Saturday,” Mr Henare said.
Tonga is currently free of COVID and operates strict border controls to keep COVID-19 out.
Communications with Tonga remain limited. Some 2G connectivity has been restored for telecommunications provider Digicel customers. However, demand is exceeding capacity and connection inconsistent. With just a portion of calls being connected, people are asked to be patient. Work is under way to add more capacity.