Clean drinking water remains the priority for residents of Tonga, a week after an underwater volcanic eruption followed by a tsunami devastated the remote South Pacific island nation.
Tongans lined up Saturday morning to access cash for the first time since the disaster, while the government said emergency response crews had already distributed 60,000 liters of water to residents, according to Reuters.
“Tongans have demonstrated their resilience in this calamity and will get back on their feet,” said Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau, who is helping lead the nation’s emergency response efforts.
Help arrived Friday in the form of a New Zealand navy ship with the ability to desalinate up to 70,000 liters of water per day. The ship dropped anchor in Tonga’s main harbor where it began processing seawater into fresh water.
Additional help is on the way in the form of naval assets from Australia, Britain and New Zealand while flights carrying humanitarian aid from Japan and New Zealand were expected to land Saturday. Two aid flights from Australia arrived Friday evening.
Assistance by air had been delayed because the runway at Tonga’s main airport was covered in ash from last Saturday’s eruption of the underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano.
About 84 percent of the nation’s 107,000 residents were impacted by ash fall or the tsunami, according to the office of Tonga’s prime minister, while inter-island communications in the archipelago remain an “acute challenge,” the report said.
The official death toll in Tonga stands at three. Needy residents on Nomuka Island are forced to visit a newly assembled field hospital after the local health center was swept away by the tsunami, which sent waves more than 40 feet high crashing onto land.