Tonga suffers major damage to homes and water: local sources

View of Nomuka, Tonga, taken on January 17, 2022. Photo: CFP

Five days after the volcanic eruption, Tonga remains largely out of contact with the outside world, except for satellite phone services. The volcanic ash fall has contaminated local fresh water, which depends on rainwater harvesting reservoirs, and the tsunami triggered by the eruption has also damaged residents’ homes, the embassy’s Global Times learned on Wednesday. and from local sources.

Some scientists have warned that acid rain could fall on the island nation for days or months, causing serious damage to ecology and threatening human lives, and neighboring countries including Fiji could also receive rain. acids.

On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to King Tupou VI of Tonga over the volcanic eruption. Xi said China stands ready to provide support to Tonga within its capacity to help the Tongan people overcome the disaster and rebuild their homes.

The Kingdom of Tonga’s embassy in China told the Global Times on Wednesday that tsunami-hit Tonga remains largely unreachable and the ambassador has been unable to contact his family in Tonga. The embassy could not provide further details of the damage or injuries.

Tonga’s government said in a statement on Tuesday that there have been three confirmed deaths and a number of reported injuries, and that government efforts have been made to ensure continuity of clean water supply as the Water supply has been severely affected by the volcanic ash, according to a press release the embassy sent to the Global Times on Wednesday.

Shipping and air transport challenges remain due to damage to docks and ash covering the runways. Domestic and international flights have been postponed until further notice as airports undergo cleaning, the statement said.

Zhao Yongming, director of the Tongan company of China Civil Engineering Construction Corp, told the Global Times via satellite phone on Wednesday that the company immediately moved its personnel and equipment to higher ground after receiving a warning from the embassy. from China to Tonga, and the eruption caused no casualties in the company.

Zhao said the company had enough fresh water and other supplies for the company’s 38 people for more than three months, and they contacted the Chinese headquarters daily by satellite phone to update their situation. .

But local residents who live near the shore and whose houses are made of wood have been hit hard by the volcanic eruption, and their fresh water has been contaminated as volcanic ash covered their rainwater harvesting tanks, a said Zhao. People can buy bottled drinking water from local stores, but household water other than drinking water is affected.

So far, no international relief organization has been able to arrive in the island nation for help, and the company, while taking steps to protect its staff, has provided accommodation for four local residents, has said Zhao.

He said the Chinese Embassy in Tonga was keeping them updated on the network outage.

According to Zhao, the company has no plans to evacuate its staff from the country, and Chinese staff will remain vigilant, keep in touch with the Chinese Embassy and increase reserves to ensure that they can be transferred to China quickly. subsequent disaster. Zhao said the company would resume work once the situation is more stable.

A day ago, Cao Xiaolin, Chinese Ambassador to Tonga, said that more than 1,000 Chinese citizens living and working on the main island of Tonga were safe, and the embassy asked the Tonga government to help verify the situation of Chinese citizens on the outer islands and provide assistance. because communications between Tonga and the outside world have been cut off.

Volcanic ash is still in the air, which can damage people’s respiratory system. The public were asked to avoid going out and wearing masks while doing so, Cao said.

China’s National Satellite Meteorological Center closely monitored the volcanic eruption and its impact through satellite data.

Zhu Lin, an expert at the center under the China Meteorological Administration, told the Global Times on Wednesday that water absorbs about 60 to 90 percent of the ash cloud formed during a volcanic eruption, and acid gases such as the sulfur dioxide follows the water in the mixture, which will oxidize within weeks and form acid aerosol particles.

In addition to a large number of acid gases, the volcanic ash cloud also contains a large amount of pyroclastic material brought in by the eruption of igneous rocks. It takes days or even weeks for a large amount of pyroclastic, mixed with aerosols, to dissipate with atmospheric movement, which has a profound impact on the climate, Zhu noted.

Based on monitoring data collected by Chinese Fengyun satellites, as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, the ash cloud from the eruption had spread to northwest Australia and continued southward. ‘Where is.

Yu Wenchao, an assistant professor at the School of Earth Sciences at China University of Geosciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that volcanic ash containing aluminosilicate could contain the growth of plants and crops after they fall. , and also compromise the safety of drinking water falling in rainwater.

The large volume of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide released during the volcanic eruption is also likely to form acid rain on the island nation, which could kill some plants and corrode building materials, a said Yu.

It’s unclear how long the acid rain could last, but Yu said it could last for days or even months and could also fall in nearby island nations such as Fiji.

Fiji said on Wednesday it had mildly acidic rainfall on Monday and Tuesday, and Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture, Waterways and Environment issued advice to the public urging them to avoid going out in the rain. and covering household water sources to prevent contamination, according to a statement a Chinese national living in Fiji sent to the Global Times on Wednesday.

A Tongan national who lives in Fiji and goes by Bubble on Twitter told the Global Times that the Lau island group in Fiji located near Tonga suffered tidal waves or a tsunami triggered by the underwater volcanic eruption and that parts of Fiji could still see ash clouds.

Bubble, who has lost contact with his family in Tonga since the eruption, said residents of Fiji were told on Wednesday to boil drinking water “just to be safe”.

About Mark A. Tomlin

Check Also

Terracon Appoints Martin Reyes Director of Geotechnical Group

Terracon, a leading provider of environmental, facilities, geotechnical and materials services, has appointed Martin Reyes …