The New Zealand aircraft RNZAF C130 Hercules and an Australian Orion aircraft carrying emergency relief supplies have departed for Tonga this afternoon.
Disaster Management Minister Poasi Tei said the Australian aircraft was heading to Tonga to help with the Tropical Cyclone Gita’s relief effort.
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the Hercules was carrying family hygiene kits, shelter kits, jerry cans, and tarpaulins.
Following a request from the Tongan Government, Australia has deployed $350,000 in life-saving equipment including emergency shelter, kitchen and hygiene kits to assist over 2,000 people in need, Australian Foreign Minister Hon. Julie Bishop said.
Australia has released humanitarian supplies, including tarpaulins and water purification tablets, through the Tongan Red Cross.
The Australian Defence Force will conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, as part of the broader whole of government effort to support the Government of Tonga.
A Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster will deliver much needed emergency relief supplies to Tonga this evening. The ADF is also ready to assist with debris removal, water, sanitation and distribution of emergency supplies on request from the Government of Tonga.
To further assist in the response, two civilian humanitarian specialists have been deployed at this stage, in addition to an Australian-funded humanitarian specialist already working with Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office.
An Australian medical expert is working with New Zealand specialists and Tongan authorities to assess health services in affected areas.
“The full extent of damage caused by Cyclone Gita is still being assessed but there is an immediate need for assistance on the ground,” Mr Peters says.
“Initial assessments indicate there has been extensive damage to homes in Nuku’alofa and some damage to commercial buildings,” he says.
“About 5,700 people sought shelter in evacuation centres overnight, and it is expected these numbers will increase substantially tonight.”
The NZ plane has carried a government team to support the New Zealand High Commission assess emergency needs and respond to requests from the Government of Tonga.
Australian officials are travelling to Tonga to help provide assistance to Australians affected by the disaster. All Australians in Tonga are advised to remain indoors and follow the instructions of local authorities. At the time of issue, DFAT had not received any requests for consular assistance.
At this stage Fua‘amotu International Airport runway in Tongatapu is open to emergency supply aircraft only.
A visual inspection of the international airport has shown the runway to be intact with minimal damage.
New Zealand is coordinating the international relief response alongside other countries including Australia.
All flights to Tonga through Auckland International Airport had been cancelled this afternoon.
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