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Pacific News Minute: Tech billionaire Elon Musk may help reconnect Tonga

Virus Outbreak Tonga
POIS Christopher Szumlanski/AP
Australian Defence Force
In this photo provided by the Australian Defence Force, debris from damaged building and trees are strewn around on Atata Island in Tonga, on Jan. 28, 2022, following the eruption of an underwater volcano and subsequent tsunami. (POIS Christopher Szumlanski/Australian Defence Force via AP)

Tech billionaire Elon Musk may help reconnect Tonga to the internet after a volcanic eruption and tsunami cut off communications last month. But other rescue efforts have brought a different kind of problem to the South Pacific nation.

Repairs on an undersea cable are proving more difficult than first thought.

The tsunami severed the only fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world, and most people remain without reliable connections.

A top official in neighboring Fiji tweeted that a team from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company was in Fiji establishing a station that would help reconnect Tonga through SpaceX satellites.

SpaceX runs a network of nearly 2,000 low-orbit satellites called Starlink, providing internet service to remote places around the world.

It did not respond to requests for comment.

A United Nations team has also provided small satellites and other telecommunications support.

Meanwhile, the head of the state-owned company that owns the undersea cable says repairs might not be completed until the end of the week.

Three people were killed in the Jan. 15 eruption of the massive undersea volcano and resulting tsunami, and several small settlements on outlying islands were wiped out.

Tonga had avoided the pandemic for more than two years, but it is now in the midst of an outbreak with new infections growing rapidly.

The virus was apparently brought in by foreign military crews aboard ships and planes delivering aid after the eruption.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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