Tonga's Communications Could Be Cut Off for Weeks

Cable ruptured, bringing internet and some phone service down
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2022 2:02 AM CST
Tonga's Communications Could Be Cut Off for Weeks
In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, volcanic ash covers roof tops and vegetation in an area of Tonga, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.   (CPL Vanessa Parker/NZDF via AP, File)

(Newser) – After the eruption of an undersea volcano and the ensuing tsunami, Tonga could be cut off from communications with the rest of the world for weeks. Just one fiberoptic cable provides global communications to the South Pacific archipelago, and it ruptured when the volcano erupted amid a magnitude 7.6 earthquake, NPR reports. The internet is currently down as a result, international calling is not available, and domestic calling is limited. A specialized ship is required to assist with the repair, and it may not arrive for two weeks or more, officials say. New Zealand's foreign ministry says it will be at least four weeks before the cable is repaired, the BBC reports.

Meanwhile, catastrophic damage was reported on two tiny islands northeast of the main island of Tongatapu, with all of the houses destroyed on one and all except two destroyed on the other, the Guardian reports. The government on Tuesday updated the death toll to three. And there's another concern: While Tonga has so far remained nearly COVID-free (with just one case having been reported in October), there are now concerns aid workers could bring the coronavirus to the island nation, the New York Times reports. UNICEF’S resident coordinator for the Pacific Islands said Tuesday that because of that, relief efforts will focus on getting supplies to Tonga without any direct contact. It could be a while for much-needed food, water, and other supplies to arrive, however: Due to debris, airport runways currently can't be used, and the equipment needed to clear the runways quickly is still as many as eight days away by ship. (Read more Tonga stories.)

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