Australian support remains on hold amid concerns that an undersea volcano that erupted in Tonga and triggered a tsunami is likely to erupt again in the coming days.
The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano is part of the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, explosive volcanoes believed to create powerful eruptions.
“The volcano is likely to erupt in the next few days, but without volcano data, it is not possible to predict or even speculate when these eruptions will explode,” said geochemist Oliver Nebel of Monash University.
The extent of the devastation in Tonga remains uncertain, with communications with the country largely cut off following the tsunami.
Desperate family members across the world have been left in limbo, unsure if their loved ones are safe.
The Red Cross estimated that up to 80,000 people may have been affected, although no injuries have been reported so far.
The head of the Red Cross delegation for the Pacific said trained Tongan teams would be on the ground to support coordinated evacuations, provide first aid and distribute relief supplies.
Katie Greenwood said local Red Cross teams are well placed to respond quickly to emergencies like this as the organization continues to work hard to establish contact with colleagues in the country.
“The Red Cross currently has enough relief supplies in the country to support 1,200 households with essential items such as tarpaulins, blankets, cooking utensils, shelter tool kits and hygiene kits. “, she said.
“Fear that communities lack access to safe and clean drinking water (and) shelter is also a concern, especially for communities close to the coast.”
Officials at Ha’atafu Beach Resort on the main island of Tongatapu wrote on Facebook that the tourist facility had been “completely wiped out”.
“The entire west coast was completely destroyed as well as the village of Kanukupolu,” he wrote.
All Australians and other officials in Tonga have been traced.
Pacific Minister Zed Seselja said although significant property damage was reported in Tonga, no casualties were reported.
“There is still very little, if any, news from the outer islands, so that will be the bulk in the next few hours,” Senator Seselja told ABC TV.
Senator Seselja said more support measures were being prepared and ready to be deployed, including a C-130 aircraft with humanitarian supplies.
HMAS Adelaide, currently in Sydney, is deployed to Brisbane where she will be tasked with supplies for Tonga.
He said there were emergency supplies pre-deployed to Tonga.
Australia has already sent a P-8 plane to assess the damage following Saturday’s natural disaster.
But Tonga’s strict quarantine measures designed to keep COVID-19 out of the country are complicating relief efforts.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Tonga had not requested an Australian medical assistance team following the natural disaster.
“As far as I know, it’s a COVID-free country and that also complicates the movement of people,” Sen. Payne told reporters.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been only one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Tonga.
Ash from the volcano is also disrupting flights in the area.
An Aircalin flight from Narita in Japan to La Tontouta in New Caledonia was diverted to Brisbane overnight due to the volcanic disturbance.
All passengers and crew on the flight spent the night in quarantine hotels, with a new flight time to be determined.
Two Fiji Airways flights from Brisbane to Nadi were also canceled on Monday due to the volcanic cloud.
It has also caused delays for flights to Townsville from Brisbane and Sydney.
Australian Associated Press