Three people have died in Tonga following a volcanic eruption at the weekend that generated tidal waves that swept across the country’s islands.
Tonga’s government has made its first official statement since the volcano’s eruption on Saturday.
It confirmed a 65-year-old woman from Mango Island, a 49-year-old man from Nomuka Island, and a British national died in the “unprecedented disaster”.
The waves, which reached up to 15 metres, destroyed all homes on Mango Island, and left only two homes standing on Fonoifua Island.
Nomuka Island has also experienced “’extensive damage”, the government says.
Two ANU researchers from the university’s Pacific Affairs Department, Dr Gemma Malungahu and PhD scholar Amelia Faotusia, said they were deeply concerned about family and friends.
The academics said in a statement that Tongans feared the risk of aid deliveries spreading COVID-19 to the island, which is free of the virus.
Dr Malungahu said there has been panic and limited information on the extent of the damage.
“It is evident that our most vulnerable will be in need of urgent assistance such as our children, pregnant women, elderly and people with disability” Malungahu said.
“The only communication lines open are those from the High Commission in Australia and New Zealand, but there has been no communication made with family and friends.”
Faotusia said the eruption had left a thick layer of ash over the land which had potentially contaminated drinking water.
“I understand that donors and development partners, including Australia and New Zealand, are working to provide urgent humanitarian assistance,” she said.
The eruption covered the runway at Tonga’s main airport with ash, hampering efforts to plan for aid to arrive by aircraft.
Australian and New Zealand navy ships are due to deliver aid resources in the coming days.