Monday, January 17, 2022

Tsunami waves crash off Tonga coast after volcanic eruption

People flee to higher ground over several days as the region’s second tsunami after a massive volcanic eruption.

The Pacific nation of Tonga issued a tsunami warning after a volcano erupted under the sea on Saturday, causing huge waves to crash ashore and people to higher ground.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of damage as communication with the small nation remained problematic. Videos posted on social media showed large waves rolling around homes and buildings in coastal areas.

Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning is in effect for the whole of Tonga.

The New Zealand military said it was monitoring the situation and was on standby, ready to assist if asked.

The island business news site reported that a convoy of police and military soldiers escorted King Taupo VI of Tonga from his palace near the shore. He was among the many residents headed for the higher ground.

The latest eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano occurred just hours after Friday’s tsunami warning was lifted.

A Twitter user named Doctor Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video showing the waves crashing.

“Can actually hear the volcanic eruption, sounds very violent,” he wrote in a later post: “Rain ash and small pebbles, the sky is dark.”

Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists saw massive eruptions, thunder and lightning after the volcano erupted on Friday.

Satellite images show a 5-km-wide (3-mile) plume of ash, steam and gas rising up to about 20 km (12 mi) into the air, the site said.

Officials in Suva said the explosion was so intense that it was heard as a “strong thunderstorm” in Fiji more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away. In nearby Fiji, officials also issued a warning, asking people to avoid the shoreline due to strong currents and dangerous waves.

More than 2,300 km (1,400 mi) away in New Zealand, officials warned of a storm surge from the eruption.

New Zealand’s Emergency Management Agency issued an advisory on tsunami activity for its northern and eastern coasts, with areas expected to experience strong and unusual currents and unexpected surges off the coast.

The National Emergency Management Agency said parts of New Zealand can expect “strong and unusual currents and unexpected surges along the coast following a large volcanic eruption”.

Late Saturday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat to American Samoa had passed, although minor sea fluctuations could continue.

The volcano is located approximately 64 kilometers (40 mi) north of the capital Nuku’alofa. In late 2014 and early 2015, a series of eruptions in the area created a small new island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific Islands for several days. Tonga is home to approximately 105,000 people.

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