An undersea volcano in the South Pacific erupted with a jaw-dropping explosion on Saturday, sending tsunami waves to neighboring Tonga and northern Japan, with warnings of dangerous ocean surges issued as far away as the west coast of the United States .
Dramatic satellite images showed the long, rumbling Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption sent a huge mushroom of smoke and ash into the air and a shock wave through the surrounding waters.
A tsunami wave measuring 1.2 meters (four feet) was observed in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the tsunami also reached that country’s Pacific coast, with waves reaching three meters (11 feet).
A 1.2-meter wave reached the remote southern island of Amami Oshima and other areas along Japan’s Pacific coast saw smaller surges, the agency said.
People rushed to the heights of the islands of Tonga, an archipelago. Local resident Mere Taufa said she was at home getting ready for dinner when the underwater volcano erupted, sending water crashing into her home.
“It was huge, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby,” Taufa told the Stuff news site.
She said water filled their house minutes later and she saw the wall of a nearby house crumble.
“We immediately knew it was a tsunami. Just water gushing into our house.
“You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to reach higher ground.”
King Tupou VI of Tonga was reportedly evacuated from the royal palace in Nuku’alofa and taken by a police convoy to a villa far from the coast.
The volcano’s eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several miles into the air.
Coastal residents have been urged to head for higher ground after the eruption, which occurred just hours after a previous tsunami warning was lifted on the island.
– ‘Keep away’ –
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano lies about 65 kilometers north of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa.
Suva city officials say its latest eruption was so intense it was heard as ‘loud thunderous sounds’ more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away, where footage shared on social media showed large waves hitting the shore.
Tsunami warnings have been issued for American Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Chile and Australia – where authorities said parts of the coastline, including Sydney, could be hit by tsunami waves.
Residents of neighboring New South Wales state have been ‘advised to get out of the water and away from the immediate water’s edge’.
A tsunami advisory has been issued for the entire west coast of the United States – from the bottom of California to the tip of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska – while tsunami waves triggered “minor flooding” in Hawaii according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
“A tsunami is happening. Remember that the first wave may not be as important. Move away from the shore and head for higher ground,” wrote the US National Tsunami Warning Center.
Footage shared on social media appeared to show a roughly one-foot wave washing up in a coastal cove in Oregon state.
Canada issued a tsunami advisory for the province of British Columbia and urged people to stay away from beaches and marinas.
Fijian authorities have warned residents to cover water collection tanks in the event of acid rain.
Victorina Kioa of Tonga’s Civil Service Commission said on Friday that people should “steer clear of warning areas which are low-lying coastal areas, reefs and beaches”.
And Tonga Geological Survey chief Taaniela Kula urged people to stay indoors, wear a mask if outdoors and cover rainwater tanks and collection systems rainwater.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)