Relief efforts ramping up in Tonga, more aid arrives

Volunteers are stepping up deliveries of drinking water and setting up shelters across Tonga's islands. PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF RED CROSS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Humanitarian aid to Tonga is ramping up after the airport was cleared of ash, making it safe for planes to land, the Red Cross said on Wednesday (Jan 26), days after a volcanic eruption and tsunami devastated the South Pacific archipelago.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said with the extra supplies, its staff and volunteers are stepping up deliveries of drinking water and setting up shelters across the country's many islands.

"This disaster has shaken the people of Tonga like nothing we have seen in our lifetime," Mr Sione Taumoefolau, secretary-general of Tonga Red Cross, said in a statement.

"The tsunami has wiped out homes and villages, but we are already rebuilding amid the ashes."

The US Agency for International Development (USAid), said the United States is providing an additional US$2.5 million (S$3.36 million) in humanitarian assistance and the guided missile destroyer USS Sampson, part of a multinational effort, arrived this week to support the efforts in Tonga.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Wednesday said it will contribute US$50,000 to support Tonga through the Singapore Red Cross (SRC).

This comes after the SRC pledged S$50,000 to the Tongan Red Cross on Jan 18.

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, also extended his "deepest condolences" to the people in Tonga affected by the disaster.

An Australian warship was arriving to coronavirus-free Tonga Wednesday evening, delivering aid without human contact after about two dozen cases of Covid-19 had been recorded among the crew.

Broadcom Broadcasting radio cited Tonga’s Health Minister Saia Piukala as saying that 29 positive cases had been reported onboard of the HMAS Adelaide, but all the positive personnel were asymptomatic.

"The ship will berth and no contact will be made," Mr Piukala said. "Australians from the ship will unload their cargoes and sail from port."

The United Nations, Red Cross and other relief agencies on the ground in Tonga have warned that a Covid-19 outbreak in the island would be catastrophic at this time.

"There is an urgent need for people to have access to safe water sources in the days and weeks to come," Mr Taumoefolau said. "Ash has settled in water tanks, requiring time to settle and careful treatment before use. It has also smothered much of the country, including houses and crops."

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages and resorts and knocked out communications for the nation of about 105,000 people. Three people have been reported killed, authorities said.

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