Tsunami hits Tonga and US on high alert as underwater volcano erupts

·3-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

The Pacific nation of Tonga has been hit by tsunami waves after an undersea volcano erupted.

People rushed to higher ground on Saturday as but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Video posted to social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, swirling around homes and buildings, while witnesses said ash was falling over the capital Nuku’alofa.

New Zealand’s military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby to assist if asked.

Meanwhile the US and Japan have advised people on their Pacific coastlines to get away from the shore as a precaution against tsunami waves caused by the volcano eruption in the South Pacific.

Japan has warned of waves as high as three metres, and waves of 1.2 metres hit the south of the country.

The US warned of strong currents and waves and coastal flooding with waves up to 4 feet high hitting California.

Satellite images showed a huge eruption. Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was in effect for all of Tonga.

Authorities in the nearby island nations of Fiji and Samoa also issued warnings, telling people to avoid the shoreline due to strong currents and dangerous waves.

The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops had transported Tonga’s King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore as residents headed for higher ground.

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the latest in a series of spectacular eruptions.

Tonga’s capital lies just 65km north of the volcano, on the country’s main island of Tongatapu.

One Tonga resident, Mere Taufa, said the eruption hit as her family was preparing for dinner, and her younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby.

“My first instinct was to take cover under the table, I grabbed my little sister, and screamed at my parents and others in the house to do the same,” New Zealand news site Stuff.co.nz quoted her as saying.

Ms Taufa said the next thing she knew, water was rushing into their home.

“You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher ground,” she added.

A Twitter user identified as Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted video showing waves crashing ashore.

“Can literally hear the volcano eruption, sounds pretty violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness blanketing the sky.”

Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it started erupting early on Friday.

The site said satellite images showed a three mile-wide plume of ash, steam and gas rising 12 miles into the air.

More than 1,400 miles away in New Zealand, officials warned of storm surges from the eruption.

White gaseous clouds rising from the Hunga Ha'apai eruption seen from the Patangata coastline near Tongan capital Nuku'alofa. (AFP via Getty Images)
White gaseous clouds rising from the Hunga Ha'apai eruption seen from the Patangata coastline near Tongan capital Nuku'alofa. (AFP via Getty Images)

The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts could expect “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore following a large volcanic eruption”.

Late on Saturday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said the threat to American Samoa appeared to have passed, although minor sea fluctuations could continue.

The volcano is about 40 miles north of the Tongan 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 archipelago for several days.

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