News agency Reuters reported that Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance aircraft there on Monday to assess the damage.
Australian Pacific Affairs Minister Jade Cesella said Saturday’s eruption and tsunami did not cause any major damage in Tonga, but early reports suggested Australian police visited the beaches and reported extensive damage.
“We have learned that there has been some significant damage,” he told an Australian radio station.
However, Tonga airport is in relatively good condition, he said.
He said a British woman was reported missing in Tonga.
Curtis Tuihalungi, deputy chief of the Tonga mission in Australia, said surveillance planes were expected to return by Monday evening. Calling on everyone to be patient, he said the Tongan government has decided to make relief a top priority.
Tonga is concerned that relief efforts could lead to the spread of COVID-19, a coronavirus-free island.
“We don’t want another wave of COVID-19 like a tsunami,” Tuihalangingi told Reuters by telephone.
“When people see such a huge explosion, they want to help,” he said.
Tongar diplomats are concerned about private fundraising initiatives, urging people to wait until the disaster relief fund is announced.
He said all relief materials sent to Tonga would have to be quarantined and that no foreign workers would probably be allowed to disembark.
The tsunami after the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano hit the coast of Tonga and cut off telephone and Internet lines across the island.
International communication is being severely disrupted due to damage to the seabed cable. He said it would take more than a week to fix the cable. Tonga’s cabinet is meeting to decide which aid is most urgently needed.
Although the Tongar telephone network has been reopened, the ash has emerged as a major health concern, contaminating the water.
“Most people are not aware that the ashes are toxic and that breathing in them is harmful and they should wear a mask,” Tuihalangingi said.
The owners of Hatafu Beach Resort on the Hihifu Peninsula, 21 kilometers west of the capital Nuku’alofa, have been “completely wiped out,” the owners said on Facebook.
He said the family managing the resort took refuge in the forest to save their lives from the tsunami.
“Everything has been destroyed along the entire west coast, including the village of Kanukupolu,” he said.
British woman Angela Glover was swept away by the tsunami. Her husband, James Glover, managed to escape by grabbing a tree, but his wife was swept away with their pet dogs.
The Red Cross said the explosion was the deadliest in decades for residents of the Pacific. He said that their regional network is being activated to deal with the situation.
Katie Greenwood, head of the Pacific for the Red Cross and Red Crescent, told Reuters that about 60,000 people were affected by the tsunami.
The effects of Saturday’s eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano were also felt in Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and Japan. Two people have been drowned in high waves caused by a tsunami off the coast of northern Peru.
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