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Volcanic ash covers a Tongan village in this photograph taken from a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

Volcanic ash covers a Tongan village in this photograph taken from a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (Vanessa Parker/New Zealand Defence Force)

The United States is sending $100,000 worth of assistance, including water and hygiene kits, to help Tongans affected by a volcanic eruption and tsunami that struck the South Pacific nation Saturday.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, through its Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, “is working to address emergency shelter needs and is providing safe drinking water,” the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, announced in a statement Tuesday.

Widespread damage and ash cover a number of islands in the Polynesian archipelago, 500 miles southeast of Fiji, following the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruptions, which began Jan. 14, according to aerial photographs published by the New Zealand Herald on Thursday.

NASA researchers estimate the eruption had an explosive force more than 500 times as powerful as the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

"We come up with a number that's around 10 megatons of TNT equivalent," James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told NPR Tuesday.

A tsunami rose 49 feet during the eruptions and killed three people when it arrived in Tonga, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday.

“The eruptions and subsequent flooding have affected approximately 100,000 people – nearly the entire population of Tonga – and likely damaged or destroyed houses and other public infrastructure,” the embassy’s statement said.

USAID has disaster experts in the region who are coordinating response efforts with the government of Tonga and humanitarian partners, the statement said.

“Once needs assessments are completed and telecommunications are restored, we will know the full extent of the damage,” the embassy said.

The New Zealand and Australian defense forces have sent surveillance flights over the islands to assess damage and dispatched warships and personnel on a relief mission.

The New Zealand ships are expected to arrive Friday and a New Zealand C-130H Hercules aircraft was headed to Tonga’s main airport with relief supplies Thursday, the New Zealand Defence Force said in a statement that day.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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