USS Sampson conducts life-saving action after disaster in Tonga

The guided missile destroyer USS Sampson is part of a multinational effort aiding the Pacific Ocean Kingdom of Tonga in the aftermath of the Jan. 15 eruption of the undersea volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai.

The massive volcanic eruption triggered a tsunami that swept across the chain of Pacific islands.

The ship, part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, arrived at the island nation yesterday to join Australian and British ships on aid runs following the volcanic eruption and tsunami, with measures in place to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Tonga, which is one of the few places in the world never to have had an outbreak.

The danger of spreading the disease was underscored when nearly two dozen sailors on the Australian ship HMAS Adelaide were reported to have the virus on Tuesday.

Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19. It is one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus-free. About 61 percent of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

Even before arriving off-shore, the ship launched its helicopter to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance damage assessment of remote islands Niuafo’ou, Fonualei, Ofu and Fonuafo’ou, according to Navy Capt. Kyle Raines, the director of public affairs at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

An MH-60R Seahawk Helicopter aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson prepares to take off to conduct life saving actions in support of disaster relief efforts in Tonga. The island nation was hammered by a volcano and resulting tsunami. The Sampson is operating in conjunction with vessels from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Fiji and more. (Department of Defense photo: Navy CPO Zackery Harmeyer)

“The USS Sampson is on scene now,” Raines said in an email message. “She is providing lifesaving efforts and assistance alongside France, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Japan and others. The multinational approach by allies and partners to assist friends in need demonstrates our shared values towards regional stability and security.”

Britain said its ship the HMS Spey arrived with 7,900 gallons of bottled water, medical supplies for more than 300 first aid kits, and basic sanitation products, but none of its sailors got off the ship, and instead moved the supplies ashore by crane.

HMAS Adelaide was also set to deliver supplies without coming into contact with the local population.

President Joe Biden spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida about aid to Tonga during a call from the White House Jan. 21.

Noting the critical situation in Tonga after the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami, the two leaders reinforced the importance of working together to provide any support necessary to this and future humanitarian disasters in the region, according to a White House read-out of the meeting.

The explosion of the volcano was seen from space and could be heard as far away as Alaska. The tsunami from the eruption was felt as far away as Japan, South America and North America. Tonga — only about 40 miles from the volcano — was hit the hardest. Tongan officials said three people were killed in the kingdom.

Ash from the volcano has covered Tonga and fouled the sources of drinking water for the 108,000 Tongans. The ash cloud from the eruption reached 30 miles into the atmosphere.

The US provided $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the country through the US Agency for International Development, in addition to an initial pledge of $100,000.

Japan delivered an emergency aid package of more than $1 million, including relief supplies and drinking water. The People’s Republic of China also provided emergency cash assistance of $100,000 to Tonga through the Red Cross Society.

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