An underwater volcano in the South Pacific erupted violently on Saturday near the small Pacific Island country of Tonga, cutting the country off from the rest of the world. The Red Cross is mobilizing members of its network in that region to provide relief.
All communication lines in the country have been disrupted with no timeframe given on restoration. Katie Greenwood, Pacific Head Delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), said that devastation may be immense, especially for outer lying islands. “We are trying hard to establish contact with our colleagues at Tonga Red Cross and establish the scale and specific nature of the support they need,” she said.
Greenwood also reported trained Tonga Red Cross teams will be on the ground supporting evacuations in coordination with public authorities, providing first aid if needed, and distributing prepositioned relief supplies. Red Cross currently has enough relief supplies in the country to support 1,200 households with essential items such as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, shelter tool kits and hygiene kits.
There are fears that communities may not have access to safe and clean drinking water due to saltwater inundation caused by the tsunami waves and ashfall from the volcanic eruption. Shelter is also a concern, particularly for those communities near the coastline.
Greenwood said local Red Cross teams are well placed to respond quickly to emergencies like this. We are determined to provide the extra resources and support they may need in the face of such a devastating disaster.
“With communication channels disrupted, one of the priorities for Tonga Red Cross will be to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to restore family links which will help people from all over the world try and find out if their family and friends in Tonga are safe and well,” Greenwood added.
The eruption also sent waves to the U.S. West Coast and as far away as Alaska, with some exceeding 3 and 4 feet in height, according to the National Weather Service office in San Diego.