WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – A submarine volcano spectacularly erupted near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing over the coast and rushing people to higher ground. A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii and the US Pacific coast.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of damage as communications with the small nation continued to be cut for hours after the eruption.
In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported that waves from half a meter (one foot) in Nawiliwili, Kauai, hit the coast up to 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) in Hanalei.
“We are relieved that no damage has been reported and that there are only minor floods on the islands,” the center said.
In Tonga, videos posted on social media showed large waves washing up in coastal areas and swirling around houses and buildings.
The New Zealand military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to assist if requested.
Satellite images showed a massive eruption, a plume of ash, steam and gas mushrooming over the blue Pacific waters.
The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning had been issued for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific tsunami center showed that 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) waves had been detected.
Residents of American Samoa were warned by local broadcasters and church bells ringing throughout the territory. An outdoor siren warning system was out of service. Those who lived along the shoreline quickly moved to higher elevations.
As night fell, there were no reports of damage and the Hawaii-based tsunami center canceled the warning.
Authorities in the nearby island states of Fiji and Samoa have also issued warnings and told people to avoid the coastline because of strong currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there may be some slight swelling of the water along Japan’s shores, but it is not expected to cause any damage.
The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops had evacuated Tonga’s King Tupou VI from his palace near the coast. He was one of the many inhabitants who were on their way to higher areas.
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 a video of waves crashing ashore.
“Can literally hear the volcanic eruption, sounds quite violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Raining ash and small pebbles, darkness covering the sky.”
Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it began to erupt early on Friday. Satellite images showed a 5 kilometer wide plume rising in the sky to about 20 kilometers (12 miles).
More than 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) away in New Zealand, officials warned of storm surges from the eruption.
The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts of New Zealand can expect “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable waves off the coast after a major volcanic eruption”.
The volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) 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 traffic to the Pacific archipelago for several days.
Tonga is home to about 105,000 people.
(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)