Following successful reconnaissance flights over Tonga by RNZAF P-3K2 Orion and RAAF P-8A Poseidon aircraft on January 17, both nations are starting to deploy ships and transport aircraft to the region.
The low-lying island nation was devastated by an explosive eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano and a subsequent tsunami on January 15, and most communications with the islands have been severed.
Imagery from the P-3K2 and P-8A show littoral areas inundated by tsunami waves and damage to buildings and port facilities. A large amount of ash, dust, and pumice has also been deposited on the islands by the eruption.
The ash and dust has meant the runways at Fua’amoto Airport on the main island of Tongatapu, and at Salote Pilolevu Lifuka Island Ha’apai Airport at the northern end of the 300km long island chain are both closed for operations until they can be cleared. media reports indicate Tongan volunteers are attempting to clear the runways so RAAF and RNZAF C-130s loaded with humanitarian supplies can land.
The Royal New Zealand Navy offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington and AOR HMNZS Aotearoa departed for Tonga on January 18. HMNZS Wellington is carrying hydrographic survey and diving teams and a Seasprite helicopter, while HMNZS Aotearoa has bulk water supplies and humanitarian and disaster relief stores.
The RAN’s HMAS Adelaide arrived in Brisbane from Sydney on January 19 to embark supplies, vehicles, and personnel in preparation for its deployment.