Prime Minister defends Deputy’s ‘no sirens’ reply as tsunami death toll rises to four

The Prime Minister has clarified that the warning sirens did not sound before the deadly tsunami hit the country because Japanese workers who had been setting up the system could not come to Tonga because of the Covid restrictions.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku and Deputy Prime Minister Poasi Tei

Hon. Hu’akavameiliku said the sirens had been installed in various locations, but the computer programmes required to trigger them to sound when there was a tsunami have yet to be installed.

He said the Japanese workers had no opportunity to quarantine in New Zealand or Australia as their MIQs were full. He said they could quarantine in Fiji, but that had been ruled out because of the Omicron virus outbreak there.

Hon Hu’akavameiliku said communication was underway with the Japanese authorities to see if the workers could board the Japanese ship bound for the kingdom with tsunami aid relief.

The Prime Minister’s response comes after Kaniva News reported there were concerns about why the sirens did not sound before the tsunami struck. The concerns were raised during the government’s first livestreamed press conference on Sunday, January 23.

In that press conference Deputy Prime Minister Poasi Tei, who is also Minister of Disaster, responded to the concerns.

Hon. Tei said that after he was assured a tsunami was hitting the country, he called the Director of Met Service and told him to “sound the alarm”.

His response sparked confusion after he implied that the sirens were waiting for someone to sound them.

The Prime Minister later said in another press conference he wanted to set the record right that the Japanese workers needed to be in Tonga to complete the installation of the warning system.

Tsunami death toll

The Prime Minister said the number of people who died from the tsunami triggered by the Hungas volcanic eruption was now four.

He did not give any details of the fourth deceased. As we reported recently, a 65-year-old man, Telai Tutu’ila of Mango Island, was killed by the powerful waves. The other two were a British national Angela Glover as well as a 49-year-old woman from Nomuka Island.

Hon. Hu’akavameiliku was making the update this afternoon while he was addressing the nation and the international community on Tonga Broadcasting Commission livestream.

The Prime Minister was visibly emotional at times and said his priority after the tsunami was people’s recovery.

He said the government was ready to rebuild houses.

Hon Hu’akavameiliku said the assistance from overseas countries and Tongans overseas were a blessing for the country.

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