The first foreign aid planes have arrived in Tonga, bearing much-needed supplies for the Pacific nation which was left devastated by the recent volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. New Zealand said its military plane landed at Tonga's main airport after workers cleared ash from the runway.
Australia also confirmed the first of its relief planes had arrived. Aid efforts had initially been hampered by ash from the volcano.
At least three people have died and communications have been crippled, and Tonga has only just begun to re-establish global contact after five days cut off from the rest of the world. New Zealand's Defence Force confirmed its C-130 Hercules plane touched down in Tonga. It was loaded with water containers, temporary shelter kits, electricity generators, hygiene and family kits and communications equipment.
Australian defence minister Peter Dutton then tweeted the first plane despatched by the Australia Defence Forces had landed, carrying a wide range of assistance and disaster relief supplies. The country said the first of its two Boeing C-17 Globemaster relief planes also had a sweeping device on board to help keep the runway clear.
Rescue teams and hundreds of volunteers had for days desperately worked to clear the thick layer of ash at the airport runway in the capital Nuku'alofa that had prevented planes from landing. Volunteers used wheelbarrows and shovels, in what New Zealand's commander of joint forces Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour called a "mammoth effort".
Both Australian and New Zealand authorities have confirmed that the aid drops will be contactless, to prevent the risk of Covid spreading to the island which has seen just one case of the virus so far in the pandemic. New Zealand's Defence Minister, Peeni Henare, said: "The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand."
Rear Adm Gilmour said no-contact Covid protocols were "being adhered to rigorously", adding that relief procedures would include making sure the airplane crew would have no contact with anyone on the ground, and that everyone would be wearing PPE (personal protective equipment). He added: "We are very respectful that the last thing that Tonga would need now is a Covid outbreak on top of this disaster."
Australia has also said no personnel would disembark from their planes.