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Tonga's internet is restored 5 weeks after big volcanic eruption

In this photo provided by the Australian Defence Force, debris from damaged building and trees are strewn around on Atata Island in Tonga, on Jan. 28, 2022, following the eruption of an underwater volcano and subsequent tsunami.
POIS Christopher Szumlanski
/
AP
In this photo provided by the Australian Defence Force, debris from damaged building and trees are strewn around on Atata Island in Tonga, on Jan. 28, 2022, following the eruption of an underwater volcano and subsequent tsunami.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Tonga's main internet connection to the rest of the world has been restored more than five weeks after a huge volcanic eruption and tsunami severed a crucial undersea cable.

Three people in Tonga were killed by the Jan. 15 tsunami, dozens of homes were destroyed and drinking water was tainted.

The fiber-optic cable is now fully operational again after being reconnected on Tuesday, said Samiuela Fonua, the chairperson at Tonga Cable Ltd., the state-owned company that owns the cable.

"It's a huge relief when you know things have come to the end and are working well," Fonua told The Associated Press. "It's one step forward for the country."

Fonua said the crew aboard a repair ship replaced about 90 kilometers (56 miles) of cable that had been damaged by the tsunami. His company didn't have enough spare cable, Fonua added, and needed to borrow some from other companies.

The fix means that Tonga Cable can now focus on repairing a second severed cable that connects some of the outer islands to the main island, Fonua said. That cable runs close to the undersea volcano.

Fonua said that entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX company had also been helping restore connections through its network of low-orbit satellites called Starlink.

Fonua said his company had been testing the satellite connections this week and they had been working well. He said that now the main cable was restored, he hoped the SpaceX connections could be used for reconnecting people on some of the outer islands.

Officials in neighboring Fiji said SpaceX had established a station there to help restore connections in Tonga.

Tonga has also been grappling with its first outbreak of the coronavirus, which may have been brought in by foreign military crews aboard ships and planes delivering vital aid after the eruption.

The outbreak has grown to more than 250 cases but so far there have been no reported deaths. The country of 105,000 has begun easing some virus restrictions after initially imposing a lockdown.

Tongan health officials say that 90% of people aged 12 and over have had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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