Tongans flee tsunami following underwater volcanic eruption
Social media footage showed waves crashing into Tongans homes after powerful eruption heard in other countries; tsunami alerts triggered
Eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, about 65km from Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, caused 1.2 metre tsunami wave.
Frightened Tongans fled to higher ground on Saturday after a massive volcanic eruption, heard in neighbouring countries, triggered the area’s second tsunami in as many days with social media footage showing waves crashing into homes.
“A 1.2 metre tsunami wave has been observed at Nuku’alofa,” Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology tweeted. The maximum tsunami wave recorded following an explosion on Friday was 30 centimetres.
The latest eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, coming hours after Friday’s tsunami warning was lifted, triggered tsunami alerts for several South Pacific island nations including Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand, warning people to stay away from coastal areas due to the possibility of strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges.
Jese Tuisinu, a television reporter at Fiji One, posted a video on Twitter showing large waves washing ashore, with people trying to flee from the oncoming waves in their cars. “It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety following the eruption,” he said.
Mere Taufa in Tonga said she was in her house getting ready for dinner when the volcano erupted.
“It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby,” Taufa told the Stuff news website.
She said water filled their home minutes later and she saw the wall of a neighbouring house collapse.
“We just knew straight away it was a tsunami. Just water gushing into our home. You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher ground.”
Local media reported waves were flooding properties, ash was falling and phone connections were down, but the scale of the devastation was unclear by late evening.
Tongans’ King Tupou VI was reported to have been evacuated from the Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa and taken by a police convoy to a villa well away from the coastline.
The eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometres into the air. Residents in coastal areas were urged to head for higher ground.
The eruption was so intense it was heard as “loud thunder sounds” in Fiji more than 800km (500 miles) away, officials in Suva said.
There, officials warned residents to cover water collection tanks in case of acidic ash fall.
The volcano sits on an uninhabited island about 65km (40 miles) north of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa.
Tsunami waves of 2.7 feet (83cm) were observed by gauges at Nuku’alofa and waves of 2 feet at Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
The US-based monitor later cancelled warnings for the US territory of American Samoa and Hawaii, but said the tsunami remained a threat for parts of the Pacific nearer the volcano.
About 2,000km from the eruption, coastal areas on the north and east coast of New Zealand’s North Island and the Chatham Islands were expected to experience “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore” following the volcanic eruption in Tonga, it said.
This was the largest eruption from the Tongan volcano so far, and the eruption was ongoing, it added.
“Strong currents and surges can injure and drown people. There is a danger to swimmers, surfers, people fishing, small boats and anyone in or near the water close to shore,” it said.
New Zealand’s military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to assist if asked.
Fiji issued a tsunami warning, urging residents to avoid the shorelines “due to strong currents and dangerous waves.”
On Friday, the volcano sent ash, steam and gas up to 20km (12 miles) into the air, Tongans’ Geological Services said in a Facebook post.
Source: South China Morning Post