18 January 2022

Local Tongan community rallies following volcano disaster as Australian government response begins

| Max O'Driscoll
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HMAS Adelaide

HMAS Adelaide departs Sydney for Brisbane to provide additional support if requested by the Government of Tonga following the Hunga Tonga volcanic eruption. Photo: Department of Defence / Susan Mossop.

Tonga is still reeling in the wake of the Hunga Tonga volcanic eruption and tsunami, and much of Canberra’s Tongan community are yet to hear from their families.

On Tuesday, 18 January, New Zealand government officials reported two deaths due to the tsunami. However, they expect further confirmation in the coming days.

The United Nations reported a detected distress signal in some low-lying and isolated Tongan islands. There remains significant concern for the inhabitants of these islands.

“At this stage, the problem we have is communication between us here and Tonga – it’s been totally cut off since the eruption,” said Tongan Association Canberra and Queanbeyan Incorporated President Sikahema Aholelei.

“We have a community here in Canberra. We will all sit down and have a meeting during the next few days, and we’ll organise what we’re going to do.”

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Australia has committed $1 million to help meet urgent humanitarian requests as an initial support package.

Mr Aholelei is optimistic this is only the beginning of Australia’s aid efforts in Tonga following the natural disaster.

His last communication with Tonga came on Saturday, 15 January. At that time, there was one primary concern emerging.

“We’ve heard there’s not much life lost, but the thing needed urgently now is drinking water because the island is covered in ash from the volcano,” said Mr Aholelei.

“We can fast for a week, but drinking is very crucial so I think they’ve filled one plane with water already.”

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He believes water supplies from local shops would’ve run out already, but he isn’t overly worried about food supplies at present.

The ACT Tongan community is relying heavily on the High Commission of the Kingdom of Tonga for limited descriptions of the current situation.

The Australian Defence Force is supporting the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) joint mission to support the Government of Tonga. Aerial assessment of the extent of damage to Tongan infrastructure will determine their next response.

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