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Tonga volcano: Internet restored five weeks after eruption

Image source, AUSTRALIA DEFENCE FORCE

The submarine internet cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world has been repaired, five weeks after an underwater volcanic eruption hit the tiny Pacific island nation.

The 15 January eruption and tsunami caused wide destruction, killing three people and damaging hundreds of homes.

In the immediate aftermath, the country was cut off from global reach because the underwater cable had been severed.

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Makeshift satellite services provided only limited communication links.

While some low-grade internet services were set up about a week after the explosion, a fast connection was still lacking as aid and other supplies began to arrive at the islands.

The 840km (520-mile) undersea cable connecting Tonga to Fiji had been its sole source of reliable internet.

On Tuesday afternoon, the island’s main telecommunications providers Digicel and TCC confirmed that the internet had been restored to the main islands.

The work is not yet complete as domestic cables that service the outlying islands still need to be restored.

On social media, Tongans began to share the news of being back online and being able to contact with families and friends much more easily.

“I’m pretty happy that we are back online,” Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku Siaosi Sovaleni told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“We had some capacity via satellite but nothing compared to what we’re having right now with the cable being reconnected,” he said.

“It was a major task, given the amount of damage, and we thought it would be fixed a week ago.”

Satellite view of the eruption of an underwater volcano off Tonga

Image source, Reuters

The force of the explosion – more powerful than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb drop – had damaged and broken apart an 80km section of the internet line. Repairing it took 10 days longer than expected.

The Tongan government said 85% of its population was affected by the volcanic eruption, which covered the capital and other areas in a blanket of ash and made fresh drinking water hard to get.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC last week, Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said his people were still struggling to get over the traumatic experience.

“We recognise that even though we might start rebuilding some of the houses like next month or so, the mental side of it will take a bit longer.”

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