Aust flight to assess Tonga tsunami damage

Laine Clark |

Australia will send a surveillance flight to help Tonga assess tsunami damage after an underwater volcano eruption.

The P-8 plane is set to reach Tongan airspace by 9am on Monday to gather information on critical infrastructure such as roads, ports and powerlines.

The flight is part of a coordinated response by Australia and New Zealand, which will also send a surveillance aircraft on Monday.

“While communications remain limited we are continuing to receive regular updates through our High Commission in Tonga, with early reports of substantial ash coverage around (capital) Nuku’alofa and coastal inundation and damage to infrastructure,” a Department of Foreign Affairs statement said.

Australia is also preparing humanitarian assistance through a flight from Brisbane which should be ready to go on Monday but – like the surveillance flights – will be subject to weather conditions.

“Australia will work in partnership with other Pacific neighbours, including New Zealand, to support Tonga in a COVID-safe way,” the statement said.

“Tonga is part of our Pacific family and both the thoughts and the prayers of Australians are with the entire nation, which has been impacted by this natural disaster.”

Australians and officials living in Tonga have all been accounted for despite communications being disrupted in the wake of the tsunami that struck the country after the nearby underwater eruption.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted at 3.10pm AEDT on Saturday, with tsunami waves observed in the aftermath.

Land warnings were issued earlier for Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island, however these were downgraded and replaced with marine warnings on Sunday morning.

Marine warnings were cancelled for the two islands on Sunday night but remain for coastal areas of NSW.

Tsunami warnings for Macquarie Island and coastal areas of Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania were cancelled on Sunday morning.

Countries around the Pacific were also on alert, with residents in parts of Japan advised to evacuate after waves of more than a metre.