Fresh pictures of the devastation in Tonga have emerged as some phone services are reestablished five days after an enormous volcano eruption and subsequent tsunami cut off contact with the outside world.
A series of photos tweeted by the Tongan consulate late on Wednesday show trees and buildings flattened and covered in ash. Others show debris piled up outside homes and damaged vehicles.
“Nuku’alofa, the “city” of The Kingdom of #Tonga, covered in volcanic ash,” the consulate wrote.
The photos came as telephone links between Tonga and the rest of the world were partially restored, though restoring full internet connectivity is likely to take a month or more according to the owner of the archipelago’s sole subsea communications cable.
Speaking from the capital, Nuku’alofa, local journalist Marian Kupu told Reuters Tongans were in the process of cleaning up all the dust but feared they may run out of drinking water.
“Each home has their own tanks of water supply but most of them are filled with dust so it’s not safe for drinking,” Kupu said.
Kupu said a few villages on the western side of Tonga were very badly hit.
“I won’t say we are expecting more deaths but as we are speaking the government is trying to fly to the other islands to check over them,” she said.
When asked if there was enough food supplies, she said: “I can say maybe we can survive for the next few weeks but I’m not sure about water.”
The first international aid is due to arrive in the country on Thursday, after a New Zealand Defence Force plane carrying “water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment” set off, according to New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The plane had been on standby until ash was cleared from the international airport in Tonga. New Zealand has also dispatched two ships carrying supplies including 250,000 litres of water, expected to arrive on Friday, while Australia is sending a naval vessel and said it had two Royal Australian air force planes ready to depart.
China’s president Xi Jinping said Beijing was ready to provide as much support as its capacity allowed, according to news outlet Xinhua.
The United Nations said that about 84,000 people, more than 80% of the population, had been badly affected by the disaster.
“They have been affected through loss of houses, loss of communication, what we understand is the issue with the water,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “Water is really the biggest life-saving issue. Water sources have been polluted, water systems are down.”
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted about 40 miles (65 km) from the Tongan capital with a blast heard 2,300 km (1,400 miles) away in New Zealand, and sent tsunamis across the Pacific Ocean.
Waves reaching up to 15 metres (49 feet) hit the outer Ha’apia island group, destroying all the houses on the island of Mango, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, where 56 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged, the prime minister’s office said. The UN said the evacuation of people from these islands was under way.
Three people were confirmed to have died in the disaster.