Watch live: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses situation in Tonga following volcanic eruption, tsunami

By and is republished with permission

There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, but communication with the island is very limited, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Communication with the island nation has been cut off since yesterday evening and members of the Tongan community in New Zealand are desperately awaiting news of their loved ones.

In a post on her Facebook page, Ardern said images of the volcanic eruption were “hugely concerning”.

She said communication as a result of the eruption had been difficult but the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were working to establish what was needed and how to help.

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Ardern said the undersea cable has been impacted, probably because of power cuts, and authorities are trying urgently to restore communications.

Local mobile phones are not working, she said.

A significant clean up will be needed. Authorities are still trying to make communication with some of the smaller islands, she said.

Ash has stopped falling in Nuka’lofa, she said.

The Tongan government has accepted a New Zealand government offer for a reconnaissance flight, and an Orion will take off tomorrow morning provided conditions allow. At present ash has been spotted at 63,000 feet.

The government is also announcing a $500,000 donation which is very much a starting point, she said.

A naval vessel has also been put on standby to assist if necessary.

Ardern has also been in touch with Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison so that both governments can work in tandem in their response.

Ardern said she has not been able to speak to the Tongan Prime Minister, because communications are so difficult.

“At the moment we are mainly receiving information from our High Commission …unfortunately from the outer islands we don’t have a lot of information,” she said.

If necessary New Zealand would help with any repairs that may be needed on the undersea cable that carries communications.

She said a priority is the supply of water for Tonga.

The reconnaisance flight will be useful to see the impact of the volcanic eruption on the low-lying islands, Ardern said.

“At the moment we stand ready to assist,” Ardern said, but she added that the conditions at the moment do not make it a stable environment for aircraft to operate in.

That is why naval vessels may be needed to head to the region.

“We are preparing for those ships to sail as we speak.”

Defence Force Minister Peeni Henare said it’s not known yet what has happened under the water. A New Zealand hydrographic vessel may be able to head to Tonga.

“Our people are ready to deploy. We just have to make sure they are fitted out with what the Tongan people need.”

Water would be one of the critical things that New Zealand could help with.

Pacific Affairs Minister Aupito William Sio said the Tongan Consul General Lenisiloti Sitafooti Aho has confirmed Tonga’s Royal family are safe.


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