Tsunami warning issued for the whole of Tonga after the eruption of an underwater volcano

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An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending huge waves crashing onto the shoreline and people running for higher ground.

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

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

Satellite images showed a large eruption. The 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 coast due to strong currents and dangerous waves.

The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops evacuated King Tupou VI of Tonga from his palace near the coast. He was among the many residents making their way to higher ground.

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 12, 2018. Photo taken on January 21, 2021, seen from the coast of Patangata, near the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa. (Mary Lyn Fonua/AFP/Getty Images)

A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video showing waves breaking on land.

“I can literally hear the volcano erupt, sounds pretty violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Ash rain and little pebbles, darkness covers the sky.”

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

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

New Zealanders warned of storm surge

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

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

On Saturday night, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat to American Samoa appeared to have passed, although minor fluctuations in the sea could 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 small new island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Tonga is home to some 105,000 people.

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