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Health warnings over volcanic ash in Tonga

DW, 19 Jan 2022
It could take more than a month to fix a vital communication link to the island following Saturday's massive volcanic eruption, officials have said. Tonga is also racing to clear ash to make way for aid-bearing flights.

An underwater cable that provides the Pacific island nation of Tonga with most of its telecommunication links with the rest of the world will need at least a month to be repaired following the recent volcanic eruption, the New Zealand government said on Wednesday. The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai underwater volcano erupted on Saturday dispersing a thick layer of ash across large parts of the island nation and causing a destructive tsunami that was felt as far away as Peru, Chile and the United States. The cable is broken in two places and will require extensive repairs.

International mobile phone network operator Digicel said it had set up an interim connection via satellite, but this would be "limited and patchy, covering about 10% of usual capacity." However, the lack of digital and telecom communications is not the only problem facing Tonga. An aircraft laden with water, generators and hygiene kits is ready to fly from New Zealand, but cannot take off until the runway at the main island's international airport is cleared of a thick layer of volcanic ash. Australia also has aircraft ready to fly.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that a blanket of ash 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) thick had accumulated on the runway. This can prove dangerous to modern aircraft as the ash can gather inside the engines. "The ash has proven more difficult to clear than was expected," said Jonathan Veitch, Fiji-based UN coordinator on the crisis. It is expected that the runway will be cleared later on Wednesday.


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