Underwater volcanic eruption triggers tsunami warnings across Pacific

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Wellington (dpa) – Tsunami alerts were issued across large parts of the South Pacific after an underwater volcano near Tonga erupted on Saturday and sent large waves crashing ashore the island kingdom.

The giant eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano triggered a tsunami in Tonga.

Local media on the island chain reported a downpour of ash, the flooding of properties and disruptions to phone and power connections, but the extent of the devastation was unclear by late evening.

The Bureau of Meteorology Australia said a 1.2 metre tsunami wave had been observed at Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital. 

Tonga’s King Tupou VI had been evacuated from the Royal Palace in the capital as many Tongans tried to get to higher ground. 

The New Zealand Defence Force said it was monitoring the situation in Tonga and stood ready to assist if requested by the government but that so far no request had been made, according to Radio New Zealand.

Authorities across the Pacific, including in Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand, issued tsunami alerts, warning people to stay away from coastal areas due to the possibility of strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges.

“People in or near the sea should move out of the water, off beaches and shore areas and away from harbours, rivers and estuaries,” the New Zealand National Emergency Management Agency warned.

Hauraki Gulf Weather recorded a 71 centimetre wave at Great Barrier Island, near Auckland following the eruption.

The volcano is located about 2,000 kilometres north-east of New Zealand.

New Zealand’s MetService said its instruments detected a pressure surge from the eruption. New Zealanders took to social media to report they could hear the eruption.

The volcano also erupted on Friday, when small tsunami waves of up to 30 centimetres were recorded, the Tonga Meteorological Office said.

The volcano was erupting intermittently in late December, but Friday’s eruption was about seven times more powerful than the last eruption, Tonga Geological Services said.

Earlier Tsunami observed in American Samoa after Tonga volcano erupts

An underwater volcano off Tonga erupted on Saturday, triggering a tsunami warning for several South Pacific island nations, with footage on social media showing waves crashing into homes.

Tsunami waves were observed in Tonga’s capital and the capital of American Samoa, a U.S.-based tsunami monitor said.

The eruption at 0410 GMT of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano, located about 65 km (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa, caused a 1.2-metre (4-ft) tsunami, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said.

The agency said it continued to monitor the situation but no tsunami threat had been issued to the Australian mainland, islands or territories.

Tsunami waves of 2.7 feet (83 cm) were observed by gauges at the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa and waves of 2 ft at Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Fiji issued a tsunami warning, urging residents to avoid the shorelines “due to strong currents and dangerous waves.”

Jese Tuisinu, a television reporter at Fiji One, posted a video on Twitter showing large waves washing ashore, with people trying to flee from the oncoming waves in their cars.

“It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety following the eruption,” he said.

New Zealand’s emergency management agency issued an advisory on tsunami activity for its north and east coasts with the areas expected to experience strong and unusual currents, and unpredictable surges at the shore.

On Friday, the volcano sent ash, steam and gas up to 20 km (12 miles) into the air, Tonga Geological Services said in a Facebook post. It has a radius of 260 km (160 miles).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu said a tsunami advisory remains in effect for the U.S. state of Hawaii, where tsunami waves were reported early Saturday morning.

The center also said tsunami advisories are in place for Attu island in western Alaska and along the California-Mexico border.

dpa-international / Reuters ((Reporting by Jahnavi Nidumolu and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru, and Renju Jose in Sydney; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by William Mallard, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Marguerita Choy)

Photo A handout satellite image made available by the Tonga Meteorological Services, Government of Tonga shows an explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, 15 January 2022. The eruption on 15 January, the second in only two days, was the latest in a series of eruptions from the undersea volcano. According to a Public Notice from the Tonga Geological Services monitoring the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai (HTHH) issued on 15 January 2022, satellite images captured on the day indicated that the volcanic eruption continued, with ash plume emission. EPA-EFE/TONGA METEOROLOGICAL SERVICES

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