Volcano fears persist weeks after Tonga tsunami as UN appeals for $90m

A 5.0 magnitude aftershock from last month’s eruption has revived Tongans’ fears of more disaster

Australian Army soldiers conduct a clean-up on Atata Island, Tonga, after the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted, triggering a tsunami. Photo: Commonwealth of Australia 2022, Department of Defence
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The UN has appealed for more than $90 million to help the Polynesian kingdom Tonga to recover from a undersea volcanic eruption that triggered a tsunami and clouds of toxic ash.

Sanaka Samarasinha, the UN’s resident co-ordinator for the Pacific Island region said on Wednesday that tectonic aftershocks, the arrival of Covid-19 and looming cyclones were stoking fears among islanders weeks since the disaster on January 15.

Citing a World Bank assessment, Mr Samarasinha urged donors to cover the $90.4m dollars in damages from the eruption – 18.5 per cent of the island nation’s economy.

He said much of the money would help the 60,000 people who rely on the ravaged farming and fisheries sectors to make ends meet.

Tonga is an archipelago of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited.

“The anxiety hasn’t gone away with the receding waters of the tsunami,” he said, hours after Tongans were jolted by a magnitude-5.0 aftershock.

“In the community, the anxiety remains and … most of all, the fear now is that the world will move on.”

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted with a force scientists said was more powerful than a nuclear bomb.

Three people died when it generated massive tsunami waves and blanketed the island nation in toxic ash.

The arrival of relief workers to the island has been connected to its first cases of coronavirus infections, including the Omicron variant, despite strict quarantine rules.

The nation of about 100,000 remains in lockdown, with stay-at-home orders meaning all businesses and schools are closed and only vital services can operate. About 87 per cent of eligible Tongans have received two vaccine doses.

Communications remain a problem in the kingdom after the eruption cut the undersea fibre-optic cable linking it to the rest of the world. The damage was worse than expected and service may not be fully restored for days or even weeks.

Updated: February 16, 2022, 7:13 PM
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