Undersea volcano erupts near Tonga, sending large waves crashing land

An Australian government spokesman said initial investigations were under way and that the Department of Foreign Affairs was working to ensure that Australians in Tonga were safe and accountable.

“Tonga is part of our Pacific family and our thoughts are with the entire community dealing with the impact of the volcanic eruption and tsunami,” the spokesman said in a statement.

“The Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs are monitoring the situation and Australia is ready to provide support to Tonga if requested.”

Any Australian concerned about people in Tonga should contact DFAT on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305.

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

Satellite images showed a huge eruption. The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was in effect for the whole of Tonga, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center showed that 80cm waves were detected.

Authorities in nearby Fiji and Samoa have also issued warnings, telling people to avoid the coastline due to strong currents and dangerous waves.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said there may be a slight swelling of the water along the Japanese shores, but it is not expected to cause any damage.

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 one of the many inhabitants who went to higher ground.

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 of waves crashing on the shore.

“Can literally hear the volcanic eruption, sounds pretty violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Purifying ash and small stones, dark covering 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.

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

The volcano is located about 64 kilometers north of the capital Nuku’alofa.

Back 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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