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Tonga reconnects to internet one month after volcano

Five weeks after the volcano, Tonga has regained connection due to the repaired internet cable

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A string of Elon Musk’s SpaceX StarLink satellites.

In this photo taken with a long exposure, a string of Elon Musk’s SpaceX StarLink satellites passes over an old stone house near Florence, Kan., May 6, 2021. Musk is helping reconnect Tonga to the internet via the StarLink satellites after a volcanic eruption and tsunami cut off the South Pacific nation more than three weeks ago, according to officials.

Associated Press

After over a month with a limited internet connection, the undersea communications cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world has been repaired.

What happened: The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Jan. 15, damaging the undersea communications cable and leaving residents of the islands without an internet connection for five days.

  • Local network providers gained limited connection via satellite, but many outlying islands were left longer with no communication, according to Reuters.
  • After the initial damage was caused to the cable, a ship was sent from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to restore the cable, as reported by Reuters.

Flashback: Eruptions caused tsunami waves that reached up to 660 feet (200 meters) inland, as shown in drone footage from the Tonga Geological Services.

  • The force of the volcano was more powerful than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb drop, breaking apart a 50-foot section of the internet cable, according to BBC.
  • The damage took 10 days longer than expected to be repaired.

Why it matters: The communications cable is Tonga’s only source of reliable internet connection and communication. Lack of communication to the island made it difficult for nearby countries to aid Tonga in relief efforts, as reported by Vatican News.

  • Disaster relief organizations struggled to assess the damage and needs of the community following the volcano.
  • Along with the damaged internet cable, Tonga’s satellites on the ground were covered in volcanic ash, further disabling connection. Restoration of the cable made communication between Tongans and their friends and family much more convenient, residents told BBC.

The bigger picture: At 514 miles long (827 km), the undersea communications cable stretching from Fiji to Tonga is one of 436 undersea cables that provide internet connection worldwide.