Frightened Tonga citizens fled to higher ground on Saturday after a massive volcanic eruption was heard in neighboring countries and triggered tsunami warnings across the South Pacific.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Twitter: “A tsunami wave of 1.2 meters in length was seen in Nuku’alofa.”
The latest eruption of the Hengja Tonga-Hongi Hapai volcano came a few hours after a separate tsunami warning was raised on Friday due to the eruption.
Just Taufa said she was at her house preparing 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,” Tova told the Stuff news website.
Minutes later, she said, water filled their house and she saw the wall of a nearby house collapse.
“We knew right away that it was a tsunami. Only water was flowing into our house.
“You could only hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to reach higher ground.”
Tonga King Tubu VI was reportedly evacuated from the royal palace at Nuku’alofa and taken by a police convoy to a villa far from the coast.
The initial explosion lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash, and smoke several kilometers into the air.
Residents in coastal areas were urged to head to higher ground.
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Suva officials said the eruption was so severe that it was heard as “loud thunder” in Fiji more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away.
Fijian officials have warned residents not to cover water harvesting tanks in case of acid rain.
Victoria Keough of Tonga’s Public Service Commission said on Friday that people should “keep away from warning areas which are coastal lowland areas, coral reefs and beaches”.
Taniela Kula, Tonga’s head of geological services, urged people to stay indoors, wear a mask if outside and cover rainwater tanks and rainwater harvesting systems.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a “Tsunami Warning” for American Samoa, saying there was a threat of “sea-level fluctuations and strong ocean currents that could pose a hazard along the shores”.
Similar warnings were issued by authorities in New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and Australia – where authorities said swathes of the coast, including Sydney, could be hit by a tsunami.
“People in the surrounding NSW state have been advised to get out of the water and stay away from the water’s immediate edge”.
Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano is located on an uninhabited island about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa.