New Zealand makes first aid delivery to Tonga after Hercules lands with supplies
New Zealand landed its first aid delivery in Tonga when an Air Force Hercules landed just after 4pm on Thursday.
The plane only stayed on the ground for 90 minutes to deliver hygiene and food items after the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday.
The delivery was made without contact to avoid the transmission of Covid-19. The Hercules will return to New Zealand around 10 p.m. tonight, but could leave on Saturday.
“We were.. aware that water, food hygiene, shelter – all of these basic needs – were going to be at risk,” Joint Forces New Zealand Commander Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour told the media. gathered outside Defense House in Wellington.
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Two Defense Force vessels are also en route to Tonga and will arrive on Thursday and Friday.
HMNZS Wellington was due to arrive on Thursday evening, followed by the 24,000 tonne HMNZS Aotearoa the following day, carrying 25,000 liters of fresh water.
HMNZS Canterbury, currently at sea, would return to Auckland to pick up more supplies on Friday and then depart for Tonga.
Gilmour said they expected disruption due to damage in the harbour. Cleanup crews “were going to have to get going” to make sure the ships could dock.
He stressed that New Zealand was not trying to “preempt” a formal request for help, but rather to ensure it was in the best position to respond quickly if needed.
Gilmour said next week we could see up to three more flights from New Zealand to Nuku’alofa. No other navigation was planned.
The ships had enough supplies to sustain the crews for 30 days. If their presence was required longer than that, supplies would have to be sent to them. Gilmour said they did not want to be a burden by depending on Tonga’s food and water supply.
New Zealand had previous experience, in its own backyard and elsewhere in the Pacific, with the aftermath of volcanic eruptions.
Aid had been flown non-contact to Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Harold, to minimize the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Gilmour said Defense Force crews would have no contact with people on the ground, all crews were wearing PPE and supplies would be sanitized.