Relief efforts ramp up in Tonga, more aid arrives
(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, days after a volcanic eruption and tsunami devastated the South Pacific archipelago.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that 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," 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 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said the United States is providing an additional $2.5 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.
The Australian government said on Wednesday it will provide an additional A$2 million ($1.43 million) in humanitarian funding to Tonga, bringing Australia's commitment to date to $3 million.
It also said that Australia is widening its support, including through the restoration of power and communications, and the storage and delivery of relief supplies.
An Australian warship arrived to coronavirus-free Tonga on Wednesday evening, delivering aid without human contact after about two dozen cases of COVID-19 have been recorded among the crew.
"The ship is undertaking an entirely contactless delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies," Austarlia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said in a joint statement.
Tonga's 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.
"Australians from the ship will unload their cargoes and sail from port," Piukala said.
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," Taumoefolau said.
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.
($1 = 1.3965 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and by Kirsty Needham and John Mair in Sydney; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Gerry Doyle)