Wellington, Jan 20 (IANS): A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules on Thursday departed Base Auckland Whenuapai carrying aid supplies for the tsunami-hot Tonga.
"The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment," Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement.
The delivery of supplies will be contact-less and the aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand, said Defence Minister Peeni Henare, adding Tonga is currently free of Covid-19 and operates strict border controls to keep the virus out, reports Xinhua news agency.
The aircraft is due to arrive in Tonga at approximately 4 p.m.
No aircraft could land before now because the runway had to be cleared of volcanic ash, Henare said.
The New Zealand response to the developing situation in Tonga is well underway and the offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington is expected to arrive in Tonga later on Thursday.
It is carrying hydrographic and dive personnel, and also has a Seasprite helicopter to assist with supply delivery, he said.
Vessel Wellington's first task will be to check shipping channels and wharf approaches to Tonga's port to ensure vessels can go alongside, and check the structural integrity of the wharf, the Defence Minister said.
Meanwhile, the maritime sustainment vessel HMNZS Aotearoa has bulk water supplies on board, as well as other supplies, and is expected to arrive in Tonga on Friday.
"Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga, and the Aotearoa can carry 250,000 litres, and produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant," Mahuta said.
Henare said New Zealand is also preparing to deploy HMNZS Canterbury, with two NH90 helicopters on board, which is planning to leave on Saturday.
Communications with Tonga remain limited. Some 2G connectivity has been restored for telecommunications provider Digicel customers.
However, demand is exceeding capacity and connection is inconsistent. With just a portion of calls being connected, people are asked to be patient. Work is underway to add more capacity, according to Mahuta.
Tsunami waves hit Tonga on January 15. The tsunami followed a series of violent eruptions from underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, 65 km north of the country's main island Tongatapu.
Three deaths have been confirmed so far, with over 85,000 others injured.
The tsunami had a significant impact on part of the foreshore of Tonga, with boats and large boulders washed ashore and shops along the coast damaged.