Jan. 19 (UPI) — Communications in Tonga could be out for weeks after briefly getting them back online Wednesday.
Saturday’s eruption of the Hunga Tonga-hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano severed Tonga’s underwater fiber optic cable that connected the remote South Pacific nation with the outside world.
A repair ship on the way from Papua New Guinea will not reach Tonga until Feb. 1 and then it must find the ruptures on the ocean bed and repair it. Tonga’s undersea cable has been in operation since 2013, running to neighboring Fiji, about 500 miles northwest.
Craige Sloots, a spokesman for Southern Cross Cable Network, told the New York Times land slippage or a shift of the seafloor are the most likely causes for the cable damage.
Tonga’s government confirmed Tuesday three deaths from Saturday’s underwater volcano explosion near the Pacific nation and said the ensuing tsunami destroyed all the homes on Mango island.
Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said 36 people lived on the island before the tsunami destroyed their homes. Two houses survived on Fonoifua island, while more extensive damage was reported on Nomuka island, where 239 people lived, he said.
Sovaleni said a “volcanic mushroom plume” extended to cover all of the country’s roughly 170 islands. Thirty-six of the islands are inhabited with a population of more than 100,000 people.
The major runway at the Fua’amotu International Airport on Tongatapu Island was reopened Wednesday after being cleared of volcanic ash. Most communications services on the South Pacific island, though, remained down, officials said.
Australia and New Zealand sent naval vessels in efforts to deliver aid to the islands and China has pledged to send emergency supplies such as drinking water and food.