Volcano erupts in Pacific, West Coast under tsunami advice

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, as all internet connection with Tonga was lost at about 6.40pm local time, said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for network intelligence company Kentik.

Tonga gets its internet via a submarine cable from Suva, Fiji, which has apparently been compromised. The company that manages that connection, Southern Cross Cable Network, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Tonga’s Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops evacuated King Tupou VI from his palace near the coast. He was one of the many inhabitants who went to higher ground.

In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reports waves measuring half a meter (1.6 feet) in Nawiliwili, Kauai and 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) in Hanalei. The National Weather Service said there were reports of boats being sunk in docks, but the danger was lessening.

“We are relieved that there is no reported damage and only minor flooding in the islands,” the tsunami center said, describing the situation in Hawaii.

In Tonga, home to some 105,000 people, videos posted on social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, revolving around houses, a church and other buildings. Satellite images showed an enormous eruption, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.

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

The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was issued for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Center said waves of 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) were detected.

A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted video showing waves crashing ashore.

“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.”

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

Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC had spotted the island in recent days after a new volcanic vent there began erupting in late December.

Satellite images captured by Planet Labs show how drastically the volcano had shaped the area, creating a growing island for Tonga.

“The island’s surface appears to have expanded by nearly 45% due to ashfall,” Planet said days before the latest activity.

After Saturday’s eruption, residents in Hawaii, Alaska and along the U.S. Pacific coast were advised to move away from the shoreline to higher ground and pay attention to specific instructions from their local emergency management officials, said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.

“We’re not giving advice on this length of coastline like we did – I’m not sure when the last time was – but it’s really not a daily experience,” Snider said.

He said the waves hitting the shore in Hawaii were just below the criteria for a more serious tsunami warning.

“The important thing here is that the first wave may not be the biggest. We could see this play for several hours,” he added. “It appears that everything remains below the warning level, but it is difficult to predict because this is a volcanic eruption, and we are set to measure earthquakes or seismic-driven sea waves.”

The first waves to hit the continental United States measured about 30 centimeters (1 foot) in Nikolski and Adak, Alaska. A wave about 20 centimeters (.7 feet) was observed in Monterey, California, the US National Tsunami Warning Center said in a tweet.

Beaches and piers were closed across Southern California as a precaution. The National Weather Service tweeted that there were “no major flood concerns.” Strong rip currents were possible, however, and officials warned people to stay out of the water.

Off the central coast of California, the National Weather Service reports tsunami waves up to 2.5 feet (.76 meters) and flooding in beach parking at Port San Luis. About 200 miles (320 km) off the coast, the waves were much smaller at Seal Beach in Southern California, according to Michael Pless, the owner of M&M Surf School.

“The waves look pretty flat,” Pless said. “We hope to reopen the beach in a few hours.”

People gathered early Saturday at Santa Cruz Harbor in California to watch water slowly rise and fall, and the boat tires stretched on docks. In 2011, following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, a series of surges cost $ 20 million in damage to the port.

Residents of American Samoa were warned of the tsunami alert by local broadcasters as well as church bells circulating the territory. An external siren warning system was out of service. Those who lived along the coastline moved quickly to higher ground.

When night fell, there were no reports of damage and the Hawaii-based tsunami center canceled the warning.

Authorities in the nearby island nations of Fiji and Samoa 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 coast, but it was not expected to cause any damage.

More than 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) away from Tonga in New Zealand, officials warned of possible storm surges from the eruption.

New Zealand’s private spokesman, Weather, Watch tweeted that people as far away as Southland, the southernmost region of the country, reported hearing sonic bombs from the eruption. Others reported that many boats were damaged by a tsunami that hit a marina in Whangarei, in the Northland region.

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 in the air to about 20 kilometers (12 miles).

The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai 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 travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

There is no significant difference between volcanoes underwater and on land, and underwater volcanoes become larger as they erupt, at some point usually breaking the surface, said Hans Schwaiger, a research geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

With underwater volcanoes, however, the water can add to the explosiveness of the eruption when it hits the lava, Schwaiger said.

For an explosion, there is generally an increase in small local earthquakes near the volcano, but depending on how far it is from land, that may not be felt by residents along the coastline, Schwaiger said.

In 2019, Tonga lost nearly two weeks of Internet access when the same fiber optic cable was broken. The director of the local cable company then said that a large ship had possibly cut the cable by dragging an anchor. Until limited satellite access was restored people could not even make international calls.


Associated Press writers Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, Frank Bajak in Boston, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, American Samoa, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this. report.


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