Tonga: Survivor tales emerge as aid reaches tsunami-struck country

Survivors tales are slowly beginning to come out of Tonga, following Saturday’s volcanic eruption and tsunami.

The tale of one man, Lisala Folau, captured global attention after he told a local radio station that he swam for more than a day to survive the tsunami.

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Mr Folau who is disabled, described how he held on to a log and then swam back to shore after being swept out to sea.

Tonga has confirmed three deaths though the extent of damage is still unknown.

Communications have been crippled – with the only undersea cable that connected Tonga to the outside world ruptured.

Mr Folau told BBC’s Newsday radio programme that he had been “scared” when he saw the wave approach him, but said he had faith that God would protect him and save his life.

Lisala Folau (second from left) sits with other Atata survivors in a room at a radio station
Image caption,Lisala Folau (second from left) with other Atata survivors at a radio interview on the main island

Meanwhile, aid has now begun trickling in with more governments deploying ships and flights to the country.

A New Zealand ship which arrived on Friday in Tongatapu was the first foreign major aid ship to land. It was carrying 250,000 litres of water and can produce 70,000 litres of water per day through a desalination plant.

The UN says clean water supplies are the top priority for the Pacific nation.

However, authorities also revealed on Friday that water testing on the main island showed it is safe for drinking.

“Some communities on Tongatapu have however lost access to drinking water. Drinking water is being delivered to the outer islands,” said the New Zealand government in its update.

It added that despite emerging reports of missing people, the death toll remained at three so far: two Tongan nationals and a British national.

Australia has deployed its largest ship, the HMAS Adelaide, which set off for Tonga on Friday. The vessel can carry helicopters which can be deployed from the ship to bring supplies to Tonga’s smaller outer islands. It is due to arrive mid-next week.

The UK also announced on Friday it was also redeploying its HMS Spey to the Tongan response and had sent aid supplies ahead with the Australian ship.

“The UK will work closely with Australia and New Zealand to assist the recovery effort in Tonga and stands ready to support our long-standing Commonwealth partner,” said UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace.

Australian Defence Forces members unload humanitarian assistance and engineering equipment from an aircraft at Fua"amotu International Airport
Image caption,Australian Defence Forces members have already brought some supplies into Tonga

The international response was held up in the first days after the explosion as a blanket of volcanic ash over the island posed a significant barrier.

Volunteers spent days manually clearing ash from the runway on Tongatapu main island, to allow emergency aid planes to land.

The first two flights from New Zealand and Australia landed on Thursday, bearing pallets of drinking water, desalination tools, hygiene, shelter and medical kits as well as telecommunications equipment.

Efforts have been made for contact-less delivery, as Tongan authorities have expressed concern about Covid being imported into the virus-free nation.

On Thursday, a second Australian plane was turned back mid-flight after a crew member on board tested positive.

The naval carriers are expected to bring far bigger quantities of aid.

The aid is arriving as communications with Tonga are slowly being restored through basic telecommunications networks.

The volcano eruption severed the only internet cable connecting the island of 110,000 people to the world. Up until Wednesday, the Tongan diaspora around the world had largely been unable to contact relatives at home. All information had come from organisations with satellite phones on the island.

Aid politics

Countries like China and Japan are also sending aid.

Japan deployed one of its own military planes on Thursday to deliver supplies.

Japanese military officers stand in ceremony in front of a C-130 Hercules carrying relief supplies to be deployed to Tonga
Image caption,Japan has prepared a Hercules carrier to bring aid to the island

China has also pledged $100,000 (£73,000) in relief cash assistance and a batch of emergency supplies.

“Going forward, China will continue to provide assistance in cash and supplies based on the situation and Tonga’s needs,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in Beijing on Thursday.

Tonga is one of the key Pacific island nations, in an increasingly-contested region which has seen an influx of loans and donations from China.

China is now the second-largest donor of foreign aid in the region behind Australia, analysts say.

Earlier this week, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd tweeted: “Australia must be the first and foremost giving assistance to Tonga. Otherwise China will be there in spades.”

Source: bbc

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