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Phone Service in Tonga Partially Restored After Eruption


FILE - This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano in Tonga on Jan. 6, 2022, before a huge undersea volcanic eruption.

Telephone service between Tonga and other countries was partially restored Wednesday, according to mobile phone network provider Digicel, but the company that provides cable service said full internet connectivity will probably take at least one month.

Communications with the island nation of about 100,000 people were cut off Saturday when an underwater volcano exploded, releasing what New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said was a supersonic pressure wave that apparently severed an undersea cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world.

While Digicel announced “international call service is back up,” Tonga Cable Ltd. Chairman Samiuela Fonua said network services would not be fully restored until the undersea cable is repaired.

Fonua said a repair ship plans to depart Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, this weekend. Fonua warned the company and those affected would be “lucky” if repairs are completed within a month, noting it would take up to nine days to sail to Samoa for equipment before embarking on an uncertain trip to the eruption area.

He also said it was unclear when the repair ship could safely venture near the undersea volcano to begin the work.

Tonga’s government and its Tonga Communications Corp. did not immediately comment on the country’s communications status.

The volcano’s explosion killed at least three people, officials said, and contaminated much of the country’s drinking water with ash.

New Zealand said Tuesday it would send water and essential supplies to Tongo by air, but ash covering the main runway at Tonga’s airport delayed the shipment by at least a day.

The pressure wave from the explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano swept over much of the planet at supersonic speeds of 1,230 kilometers per hour, according to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. The volcano’s blast could be heard in Alaska and triggered tsunami waves across the Pacific.

Despite the violent explosion, Tonga appears to have avoided widespread devastation that was initially feared, officials said. But because communications were cut off, the government said assessing the damage has been more difficult.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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