Tonga: Tsunami waves hit South Pacific island after volcanic eruption

Satellite images show a huge cloud of ash and shock waves spreading from the eruption.

A tsunami warning has been issued for the islands of Tonga. Tsunami advisories have also been issued as far away as New Zealand’s North Island.

According to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand (RNZ), waves crossed the shoreline of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, on Saturday, pouring into coastal roads and flooding.

Tonga’s King Tupou VI was evacuated from the Royal Palace after the tsunami flooded the capital, RNZ reported, citing local media reports that a convoy of police and troops rushed the monarch to a villa in Mata Ki Eua.

Residents headed for higher ground, RNZ said, as waves washed over the palace grounds, waterfront and main street.

Ash fell from the sky in Nuku’alofa Saturday night and telephone lines were down, RNZ said.

The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano first erupted on Friday, sending an ash 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) into the sky, according to RNZ.

A second eruption struck at 5:26 p.m. local time on Saturday, RNZ reported.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said it recorded a 1.2m (about 4 feet) tsunami wave near Nuku’alofa at 5:30 p.m. local time on Saturday.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said 2.7-foot (83 cm) tsunami waves were observed from meters in Nuku’alofa and 2-foot waves in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, Reuters reported.

Jese Tuisinu, a television reporter at Fiji One, Posted a video on Twitter showing large waves washing up, with people trying to escape the incoming water in their vehicles. “It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety after the eruption,” he said in another tweet.

The volcano is located about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) southeast of Fonuafo’ou Island in Tonga, and about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa, according to RNZ.

In addition to the tsunami warning, Tonga’s Meteorological Services have issued advisories for heavy rainfall, flash flooding and high winds in land and coastal waters.

The nearby island of Fiji has also issued a public advisory asking people living in low-lying coastal areas to “get to safety in anticipation of strong currents and dangerous waves”.

According to the National Disaster Management Office, a tsunami advisory is also in effect for the Pacific island of Vanuatu, advising residents to move away from the shoreline and seek higher ground.

A tsunami watch is in effect for all low-lying coastal areas of Samoa, the Samoa Meteorological Service said. “All people living in low-lying coastal areas are advised to stay away from beach areas,” the agency said, and the public should not visit the coastal areas.

A tsunami advisory has also been issued for coastal areas on the north and east coasts of New Zealand’s North Island and the Chatham Islands, where “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable coastal waves” are expected, according to the National Emergency Management. Agency of New Zealand. .

New Zealand’s official weather service said weather stations across the country had observed a “pressure surge” from the eruption on Saturday night.

Volcanic eruption image from Tonga Meteorological Services, Government of Tonga

Scientist Emily Lane, of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, told the New Zealand Science Media Center it was a “highly significant” eruption.

“Its shock wave is clearly visible on satellite images and there are reports that the eruption is heard at least as far away as New Zealand,” she said. “The tsunami from the eruption has reached more than 2,500 km and is recorded at meters all over Aotearoa.”

Tsunamis generated by volcanoes are much less common than tsunamis from underwater earthquakes, Lane said.

A smaller eruption in late 2014/early 2015 built the volcano’s crater above the water’s surface, Lane added, but it’s not yet clear exactly how Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted on this occasion. “If we see what’s left of the island after this eruption is over, we can start putting the pieces of what happened,” she said.

Professor Shane Cronin, of the School of Environment at the University of Auckland, told the New Zealand Science Media Center that research into historic eruptions from the same volcano suggested that the current eruption episode could last for weeks or months “and that further eruptions of similar magnitude could lead to the event of January 15, 2022 are possible.”

“The eruption is likely to result in a significant ash drop (cm to ten cm) in Tongatapu and in the Ha’apai group of islands,” he said. “Help will be needed to restore the drinking water supply. The people of Tonga also need to remain vigilant for further eruptions in the short term and especially avoid tsunamis and low-lying areas.”

A previous tsunami warning for American Samoa has since been canceled, according to the NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

According to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, there is no tsunami threat to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands from a “remote eruption.”

The volcano was active from December 20, but was declared dormant on January 11, according to RNZ.

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