Watch: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses the situation in Tonga after the volcanic eruption and tsunami
There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga as the Defense Force prepares to move to the islands, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
Communication with the islands has been cut off since last night and members of the Tongan community in New Zealand are desperately awaiting news of their loved ones.
Ardern said communication following the eruption had been difficult, but the New Zealand Defense Force and Foreign Office were working to determine what was needed and how to help.
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Ardern said the undersea cable had been hit, likely due to power outages, and authorities were urgently trying to restore communications.
If necessary, New Zealand would help make the necessary repairs to the submarine cable that carries the communications.
Local cell phones in Tonga are working, but she was unable to reach the Tongan prime minister, she said.
“At the moment we mainly get information from our high commission… unfortunately from the outer islands, we don’t have a lot of information,” she said.
Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio said Tonga Consul General Lenisiloti Sitafooti Aho has confirmed that the Tonga royal family is safe.
The New Zealand High Commission says the tsunami had a significant impact on the foreshore on the north side of Nuku’alofa, with boats and large rocks washed ashore. Stores along the coast have been damaged and will require major cleaning, Ardern said.
While ash has stopped falling in Nuku’alofa, it is having a significant impact on the island, according to initial reports.
Authorities are still trying to communicate with some of the smaller islands, she said.
“There are parts of Tonga where we just don’t know yet – we just haven’t established communication.”
Ardern said the satellite images “really revealed the magnitude of this volcanic eruption”, adding that people know how close Tonga is to the volcano, so it’s very concerning for those trying to contact loved ones.
Sio said there has been overwhelming concern here for whānau in Tonga. Pacific people are resilient people who have experienced hurricanes and storms before and know how to respond, he said. He called on people to give officials time to figure out how best to respond effectively.
Ardern said anyone in the Pacific region, such as vacationers, should heed local advice.
New Zealand announces $500,000 donation and prepares to send aid
The Tongan government has accepted an offer from the New Zealand government for a reconnaissance flight, and an Orion will take off tomorrow morning if conditions allow. At present, ash has been spotted at 63,000 feet.
The government is also announcing a $500,000 donation, which is really a starting point, she said.
A warship was also put on standby to help if needed.
“[There is] an emergency here. We want to be sure to be on the ground as soon as possible, but for our Navy ships it will take several days to reach Tonga, and we have to balance the need to get there quickly, but for us ensuring that we also get the people and the resources that they need there as well and in some cases we have parts of Tonga where we just haven’t been able to establish communication. »
Ardern has also been in contact with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison so the two governments can work in tandem in their response.
She said Tonga’s water supply was a priority.
The reconnaissance flight will be useful to see the impact of the volcanic eruption on the low islands, Ardern said.
“Right now, we’re ready to help,” Ardern said, but she added that current conditions don’t make it a stable environment for planes to operate in.
This is why warships may be needed to get to the area.
“We are preparing for these ships to sail as we speak.”
The Canterbury could be deployed in eight hours, she said.
Defense Forces Minister Peeni Henare said it was not yet clear what happened underwater. A survey vessel from New Zealand might be heading for Tonga.
“Our people are ready to deploy. We just need to make sure they are equipped with what the Tongan people need.”
Water would be one of the essential things New Zealand could help with, he said.
Doctors, logistics personnel and engineers will be the most needed professional skills for personnel deployed to help, he said.