POIS Christopher Szumlanski/AP
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Tonga’s main internet connection to the rest of the world has been restored more than five weeks after a massive volcanic eruption and tsunami cut a crucial submarine cable.
Three people in Tonga were killed in the January 15 tsunami, dozens of homes were destroyed and drinking water was contaminated.
The fiber optic cable is now fully operational after being reconnected on Tuesday, said Samiuela Fonua, the chairman of Tonga Cable Ltd., the state-owned company that owns the cable.
“It’s a huge relief to know that things have come to an end and are working well,” Fonua told The Associated Press. “It’s a step forward for the country.”
Fonua said crew aboard a repair vessel replaced about 90 kilometers of cable damaged by the tsunami. His company didn’t have enough spare cable, Fonua added, and had to borrow some from other companies.
The fix means Tonga Cable can now focus on repairing a second severed cable connecting some of the outer islands to the main island, Fonua said. That cable runs close to the submarine volcano.
Fonua said entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX company had also helped restore connections through his network of low-orbiting satellites called Starlink.
Fonua said his company had tested the satellite links this week and they were working well. He said now that the main cable had been restored, he hoped the SpaceX links could be used to reconnect people on some of the outer islands.
Officials in neighboring Fiji said SpaceX had set up a station there to restore connections in Tonga.
Tonga is also grappling with the first outbreak of the coronavirus, which may have been brought in by foreign military crews aboard ships and planes that provided essential aid after the outbreak.
The outbreak has grown to more than 250 cases, but no deaths have been reported so far. The country of 105,000 has begun easing some virus restrictions after initially imposing a lockdown.
Tongan health officials say 90% of people aged 12 and older have had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.