Federal Government urges Australians in Ukraine to “leave now”

Australia has joined other western nations in warning people not to travel to Ukraine.

The Federal Government updated its travel advice overnight, urging Australians already in Ukraine to leave the country immediately.

The overall advice has now been raised to “do not travel” due to the risk of armed conflict.

“The Australian Government has directed the departure of dependants of Australian Embassy staff from Kyiv,” the warning reads.

“If you’re in Ukraine, you should leave now by commercial means if it’s safe to do so as flight availability could change or be suspended at short notice.”

“Consular services and our ability to provide consular assistance to Australians may be limited due to local circumstances,” the Federal Government said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has opened a registration portal for Australian citizens to register their whereabouts due to security concerns.

“Australians who decide to remain in Ukraine should review their personal security plans, be prepared to shelter in place if required, maintain heightened security awareness and register with DFAT.”

US President Joe Biden is holding crisis talks with European leaders this morning, after months of growing fears about a Russian invasion.

It’s understood around 8500 of their troops have been put on heightened alert.

Meat Loaf passes away aged 74

American singer Meat Loaf has passed away in a Nashville Hospital overnight, at the age of 74.

The ‘Bat Out of Hell’ star’s manager confirmed the news overnight, that he died surrounded by his family and close friends.

He’s succeeded by his wife Deborah and their children Pearl and Leslie.

Born Marvin Lee Aday, Meat Loaf took his stage name from a childhood nickname.

He went on to have a massive career that spanned six decades, selling more than 100 million albums worldwide.

He also featured in many movies such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Wayne’s World and Fight Club.

The cause of his death was not given.

“We know how much he meant to so many of you and we truly appreciate all of the love and support as we move through this time of grief in losing such an inspiring artist and beautiful man.

“We thank you for your understanding of our need for privacy at this time.
“From his heart to your souls…don’t ever stop rocking!”

RAAF flights ready for Tonga aid mission

Two Royal Australian Air Force planes are ready to depart for Tonga as soon as conditions allow, with the flights waiting for ash to be removed from the Pacific nation’s airport runway.

New Zealand Defence Minister Peeni Henare said he was informed the Tongans were redoubling their efforts to clear the runway and have it operational by midday to early afternoon on Thursday.

Mr Henare said locals were removing the dust by hand because small equipment had been destroyed or can’t be used.

“I’ve been told it is human power that is sweeping clear the debris and the ash off the runway at the moment,” he told the ABC.

“My understanding is that, with respect to the airport, the ash cover is significant, but not overwhelming.”

One unconfirmed New Zealand defence report said the ash was up to a metre deep in some places, Mr Henare said.

“The most stark description that was given to me in the briefing from the defence force was the lack of colour,” he said.

“You imagine Pacific Islands, the tropical nature of the place and the bright colour of the sands and beaches. It’s all very grey and dull because of the ash that just blankets the entire land.”

Australia’s HMAS Adelaide is preparing for deployment after arriving in Brisbane on Wednesday and has been loaded with humanitarian and disaster relief supplies, along with critical equipment to help recovery efforts.

It’s expected the voyage to Tonga will take five days, and the ship will serve as a base for relief work.

The extent of the devastation wrought by the eruption of an underground volcano and subsequent tsunami on the Pacific nation is yet to be fully realised with communication systems down.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison managed to speak with his counterpart Siaosi Sovaleni on Wednesday afternoon and said Australia’s priority remained delivering assistance in a COVID-free manner.

“I reassured him that Australia stands shoulder to shoulder with the Kingdom of Tonga as it responds to the undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami,” Mr Morrison said.

“I conveyed Australia’s deep sadness for the loss of life and the damage caused by the disaster, and wished those injured a speedy recovery.”

Australia and New Zealand have sent flights to survey the damage, revealing knocked over shipping containers at Tonga’s Nuku port and volcanic ash covering houses and the runway at Ha’apai airport.

Tonga has also approved the arrival of HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa which departed New Zealand on Tuesday and are expected to arrive on Friday.

Mr Morrison said the Australian High Commission in Nuku’alofa is in close contact with the Tongan government “to ensure our relief efforts best meet the country’s immediate needs”.

“The government is also engaged with the many Tongans living in Australia to provide information and support,” he said.

Power has been restored but communication in and out of the country remains difficult after a key underwater cable was damaged.

New Zealand’s foreign ministry says US cable company SubCom advises it will take up to a month to repair the damaged cable.

Telstra is working with Digicel Pacific to find a satellite communications solution while the Australian mission will also help repair the damaged underwater telecommunication cables and set up a temporary satellite system.

© AAP 2022

Three dead as Tonga island homes destroyed

All the homes on one of Tonga’s small outer islands were destroyed in the massive volcanic eruption and tsunami, with three people so far confirmed dead, the government says in its first update since the disaster hit.

With communications severely hampered by an undersea cable being severed, information on the scale of the devastation after Saturday’s eruption – causing waves up to 15 metres high – has so far mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.

But the office of Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said in a statement that every home on Mango island, where about 50 people live, had been destroyed, only two houses remained on Fonoifua and Namuka island had suffered extensive damage.

Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, earlier said pictures taken by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) showed “alarming” scenes of a village destroyed on Mango and buildings missing on Atata island, which is closest to the volcano.

“People panic, people run and get injuries. Possibly there will be more deaths and we just pray that is not the case,” Tu’ihalangingie told Reuters.

Sovaleni’s office said a 65-year-old woman on Mango Island and a 49-year-old man on Nomuka Island had been killed, in addition to a UK citizen whose death was confirmed on Monday.

A number of injuries were also reported.

The United Nations said on Monday a distress signal was detected in the outlying Ha’apai islands, where Mango is located.

Tsunami waves reaching up to 15 metres had hit the Ha’apia island group and the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, the prime minister’s office said.

On the western coast of the main island, 56 houses were completely or seriously damaged and residents moved to evacuation centres.

Mango is about 70km from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean when it erupted with a blast heard 2300km away in New Zealand.

A search and rescue operation began on Sunday for Atata island, which has a population of about 100 people.

“Challenges to sea and air transportation remain due to damage sustained by the wharves and the ash that is covering the runways,” it said.

The office said some limited communications had been made with satellite phones but some areas remained cut off.

The Tongan navy had deployed with health teams and water, food and tents to the Ha’apai islands, with more aid sent on Tuesday due to the severity of the damage observed on Mango, Fonoifua and Namuka islands, it said.

The NZDF images, which were posted on a Facebook site and confirmed by Tu’ihalangingie, showed tarpaulins being used as shelter on Mango island.

Tonga is expected to issue formal requests for aid soon but in the meantime New Zealand said two ships, HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, had set off with water supplies, survey teams and a helicopter.

© RAW 2022

Fears Tonga disaster death toll will rise

Tongan officials have warned the death toll from the volcanic eruption and tsunami in the Pacific nation is only set to grow, as damage assessment begins.

As Australia prepares to send more aid to Tonga, authorities have confirmed the first casualty from the natural disaster, British charity worker Angela Glover.

The deputy head of mission at Tonga’s high commission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, said it would still be weeks before communication was fully restored in the country.

“Communication is on locally, so people can call one another in Tonga, but can’t all internationally, we still have limited access to Tonga,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“We still don’t have a direct communication with our government.”

All Australians have been accounted for in Tonga following the disaster.

There are normally about 300 Australians living in Tonga, but the number is estimated to be less due to COVID-19.

Mr Tu’ihalangingie said there was still uncertainty about the level of damage to Tonga, but basic supplies were needed.

“At this point (Tonga needs) water and also masks,” he said.

“The county was covered with volcanic ash and this is very alarming and dangerous, not only for young children but for everyone.”

Australia sent a P-8 plane to survey the damage on Monday, with further support on the way.

Pacific Minister Zed Seselja said critical supplies such as food, water as well as communications and clean-up equipment will be sent over on a C-130 plane once the airport in Tonga is able to reopen.

“There is still a significant amount of ash at the airport. It was hoped the airport might open today, but that’s more likely now to be tomorrow,” Senator Seselja told the Nine Network.

“We’ve offered $1 million in assistance at the moment, we’re looking to hear back from the Tongan government in some more specific detail.”

Initial data from Monday’s surveillance flight has come through, with on-ground efforts also being carried out by Tongan authorities.

Further supplies will be deployed to Tonga on HMAS Adelaide as early as Wednesday.

A major underwater telecommunications cable was damaged in the tsunami, and is expected to take at least two weeks to repair.

Senator Seselja said work was under way to get communication access to the Pacific nation.

“We’re working with Telstra to try and make sure we can get temporary equipment, so some better on-the-ground equipment can exist.”

With Tonga enforcing a strict border measure to help keep coronavirus cases out of the country, there are fears international aid efforts could lead to Tonga losing its COVID-free status.

“As much as we are going to send assistance, we will still need to follow the COVID-19 protocols to keep the people in the population safe, rather than us setting a system and there’s a tsunami of COVID hitting Tonga, Mr Tu’ihalangingie said.

“We hope to maintain that and we’re very appreciative of the understanding of the Australian government and partners.”

© AAP 2022