Tsunami warning issued for all of Tonga after underwater volcano erupts

An undersea volcano erupted dramatically near the peaceful nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending big waves crashing onto the shore and people rushing for higher ground.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or extent of damage, as communications with the small nation remained problematic. Video posted to social media showed large waves washing up in coastal areas, swirling around homes and buildings.

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

Satellite images showed a huge eruption. The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was in effect for the whole of Tonga. Authorities in the neighboring island nations of Fiji and Samoa have also issued warnings, telling people to avoid the shore due to strong currents and dangerous waves.

The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military evacuated King Tupou VI of Tonga from his palace near the shore. He was one of the many inhabitants who headed for the heights.

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

White gaseous clouds rise from an eruption of the Hunga Ha’apai volcano on December 21, 2021, seen from the coast of Patangata near the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa. (Mary Lyn Fonua/AFP/Getty Images)

A Twitter user identified as Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video showing waves crashing on the shore.

“Can literally hear the eruption of the volcano, the sounds are quite violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “It’s raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness covers the sky.

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

The site said satellite images showed a five kilometer wide plume of ash, steam and gas rising into the air about 20 kilometers away.

New Zealanders warned of storm surges

More than 2,300 kilometers away in New Zealand, officials warned of storm surges from the eruption.

The National Emergency Management Agency said parts of New Zealand could expect “unusual strong currents and unpredictable surges on shore following a large volcanic eruption”.

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

The volcano is located about 64 kilometers north of the capital, Nuku’alofa. In late 2014 and early 2015, a series of eruptions in the area created a new small island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Tonga is home to approximately 105,000 people.

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