Army engineers from Brisbane’s 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment have started clean-up operations on Atata Island in Tonga after a tsunami swept through the region last month.
CAPTION: Australian Army soldiers conduct clean-up operations on Atata Island as part of Operation Tonga Assist 2022. Story by Captain Zoe Griffyn. Photo by Corporal Robert Whitmore.
Army CH-47F Chinook helicopters transported plant equipment onto the island to help the engineers get underway.
2nd Combat Engineer Regiment squadron commander Major David Ferwerda said the Australian effort was coordinated with Atata residents before it got underway.
“The town officer gave us his key recovery priorities,” Major Ferwerda said.
“Our main focus was on communal areas such as churches, schools and beaches where the locals gather.”
The engineers used air, land and sea reconnaissance to identify beach erosion after the tsunami, which helped inform their efforts.
“The community was concerned that further erosion would eventually cut the island in two,” Major Ferwerda said.
“We used plant equipment, including an excavator and medium bulldozer, to protect the beaches and ensure tides don’t start washing the island away.”
The 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment has a long history of supporting high-risk weather operations, having previously deployed on Operations Flood Assist 2011, Bushfire Assist 2019-20, and Flood Assist 2021.
Major Ferwerda is proud of the regiment’s short-notice readiness response.
“The soldiers’ rapid embarkation into HMAS Adelaide to support Tonga was impressive,” Major Ferwerda said.
Combat engineer Lance Corporal Tara Arnett said the regiment had unique capabilities to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
“We’re jacks of all trades, which makes our role exciting and diverse,” Lance Corporal Arnett said.
“Our main tasks on the island are felling dangerous trees and clearing schools, churches and public spaces from debris.”
The regiment is on standby to support the high-risk weather season each year.
“We’re always ready,” Lance Corporal Arnett said.
“When we’re recalled from leave it’s good to know we will be helping others.”
The Australian Defence Force is deployed on Operation Tonga Assist 2022 as part of the Australian Government’s support to the Tongan Government following the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano.