Science

In Tonga, a volcano, a tsunami and communications cut

The volcanic eruption and then the tsunami that hit the Tonga islands caused a communication cable to break, cutting off the archipelago from the rest of the world. So much so that even Elon Musk offers help from Starlink.

The images went around the world. The Tonga archipelago, 170 islands and islets located in Polynesia, in the South Pacific Ocean, 744 km from the first neighboring country, has suffered two natural disasters in rapid succession. On January 15, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano, located 65 km north of the main island of Tongatapu, erupted, triggering a tsunami that partially submerged the island state, including the capital Nuku’alofa. .

The country was then isolated from the world due to the rupture of an underwater cable, interrupting all telephone and Internet communications. Although internal links were partially restored shortly thereafter, the cable linking Tonga to Fiji will require several weeks to repair. Tonga had to rely on satellite telephone exchanges to call for help. Several countries, including New Zealand and Australia, sent aid by sea.

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Given the magnitude of the disaster and the communication difficulties, Elon Musk also stepped forward. The CEO of SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) has offered to send Starlink internet terminals to Tonga pending restoration of links. The billionaire was responding to an article in the Reuters news agency that stipulated that communications would not be restored in the archipelago for at least a month. “It’s a difficult thing for us to do right now because we don’t have enough satellites with laser links and there are already geosatellites serving the Tonga region,” Musk said. That’s why I ask for a clear confirmation.”

After the analysis, the submarine cable in question would have been damaged in several places. A segment is also close to the volcano, making intervention difficult. “US cable company SubCom says it will take at least four weeks for Tonga’s connection to be restored,” New Zealand’s foreign minister said.

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