SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Tonga was virtually cut off from the rest of the world Monday after a massive volcanic blast that crippled communications with the Pacific island nation, and experts warned internet connection may not be fully restored for weeks.
It is two days since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haa’pai volcano exploded, cloaking Tonga in ash, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and releasing shock waves that wrapped around the entire Earth.
But still neighboring countries and international agencies are clambering to try to grasp the scale of the damage, with New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern stating Sunday it is believed to be “significant.”
What is known is that the volcanic blast Saturday seriously damaged the ash-covered capital Nuku’alofa and severed an undersea communications cable — which could take two weeks to restore.
Tonga’s Internet may remain down for two weeks, Southern Cross Cable Network’s networks director Dean Veverka told AFP.
“We’re getting sketchy information but it looks like the cable has been cut,” he said.
“It could take up to two weeks to get it repaired. The nearest cable-laying vessel is in Port Moresby,” he added, referring to the Papua New Guinea capital, more than 4,000 kilometers from Tonga.
Southern Cross is assisting Tonga Cable Limited which owns the 872 kilometer cable linking the island nation with Fiji — and from there to the rest of the world.
Ardern said New Zealand was relying on satellite phones to communicate with the island nation that is home to some 100,000 people.
Wellington and Canberra scrambled reconnaissance planes in an attempt to get a sense of the damage from the air on Monday, with both also putting C-130 military transport aircraft on standby to drop emergency supplies or to land if runways are deemed operational.
The reconnaissance flights would help to advise Tonga’s government of the scale of the volcanic and tsunami damage and help to identify aid needs, Ardern said.