Contact with Tonga restored five days after volcanic eruption

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As the massive undersea Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday, Tongans from around the world gazed on as their relatives livestreamed images of the billowing clouds of ash, gas and steam emerged from beneath the depths.

Then darkness.

The eruption severed Tonga’s single fiber-optic cable, rendering the entire Pacific archipelago offline and unable to communicate with the rest of the world — and leaving their loved ones terrified about what might have happened.

Only on Thursday were many people able to get through to loved ones, as sporadic telephone connections were restored but it will be a long time before the video calls they’d come to rely upon during COVID lockdowns are possible again.

The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano erupted on Saturday, bringing tsunami waves to three of Pacific nation’s smaller islands and killing at least three people.

U.N. humanitarian officials report more than 80% of Tonga’s population have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption. Homes were destroyed and drinking water was polluted by volcanic ash.

Video showed the capital Nuku’alofa covered in a blanket of ash. A layer of ash up to 2 centimetres (0.78 inch) thick covered the streets of Tonga’s main island with debris strewn in and around homes.

The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid finally arrived Thursday after the country’s main airport runway was cleared of the ash.

New Zealand and Australia each sent military transport planes that were carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment. The Australian plane also had a special sweeper to help keep the runway clear.