West News Wire: On Saturday, an underwater volcano erupted in dramatic manner in Tonga, sending massive tsunami waves crashing on the beach and people fleeing for higher ground. A tsunami warning was issued for Hawaii and the Pacific coast of the United States.
As contacts with the small nation remained cut off hours after the eruption, there were no early reports of injuries or the magnitude of the damage.
Waves smashing ashore in Hawaii ranged from half a meter (a foot) in Nawiliwili, Kauai, to 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) in Hanalei, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
“We are glad that no damage has been recorded and that only minimal flooding has occurred over the islands,” the center stated.
On Tonga, video posted to social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, swirling around homes and buildings.
New Zealand’s military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to assist if asked.
Satellite images showed a huge eruption, a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue Pacific waters.
The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was declared for all of the archipelago, and data from the Pacific tsunami center showed waves of 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) had been detected.
Residents of American Samoa were alerted of the tsunami warning by local broadcasters as well as church bells that rang territory-wide. An outdoor siren warning system was out of service. Those living along the shoreline quickly moved to higher ground.
As night fell, there were no reports of any damage and the Hawaii-based tsunami center canceled the alert.
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 Japan Meteorological Agency said there may be a slight swelling of the water along the Japanese coasts, but it was not expected to cause any damage.
The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops evacuated Tonga’s King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore. He was among the many residents who headed for higher ground.
The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the latest in a series of spectacular eruptions.
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 Friday. Satellite images showed a 5-kilometer (3 mile) -wide plume rising into the air to about 20 kilometers (12 miles).
Officials in New Zealand, more than 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) distant, warned of storm surges as a result of the eruption.
Following a significant volcanic eruption, “strong and unexpected currents and unpredictable surges near the coast” are expected in several sections of New Zealand, according to the National Emergency Management Agency.
The volcano is approximately 64 kilometres (40 miles) north of Nuku’alofa, the capital. A series of eruptions in the area in late 2014 and early 2015 formed a small new island and interrupted international aviation access to the Pacific archipelago for several days.
Tonga has a population of around 105,000 people.