Undersea Volcano Erupts In Pacific, Islanders Rush To Escape Tsunami

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) – An undersea volcano erupted spectacularly near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending huge tsunami waves crashing across the shore and sending people to higher ground.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or the extent of damage as communications with the small country remained an issue. A video clip posted on social media showed large waves washing beaches in coastal areas and swirling around homes and buildings.

The New Zealand military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on alert and ready to assist if requested. Satellite images showed a massive eruption, and a plume of ash, steam and gas billowed like mushrooms over the blue Pacific waters.

This image taken by Himawari 8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows the eruption of an undersea volcano near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday.

Tonga meteorological services said a tsunami warning was in effect for all of the archipelago, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center showed waves of 80 cm (2.6 feet) were detected.

Residents of American Samoa were alerted to a tsunami warning by local broadcasters as well as church bells that rang throughout the territory. The siren warning system was out of service. Those living along the coastline moved quickly to higher ground.

As night fell, there were no reports of any damage and the Hawaii-based tsunami center canceled the alert.

Authorities in the two neighboring island nations of Fiji and Samoa also issued warnings, telling people to avoid the shoreline due to strong currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there may be a slight swell of water along the Japanese coast, but it is not expected to cause any damage.

The islands business news website reported that a convoy of police and military forces evacuated Tonga King Tubu VI from his palace near the beach. He was among the many residents who headed to higher regions.

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

A Twitter user known as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau Video showing waves crashing on the beach.

“The eruption can be heard literally, it sounds very violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “It rains ash and small pebbles, darkness covers the sky.”

Earlier, Matangi Tonga news website reported that scientists noticed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after its eruption began early Friday. Satellite imagery showed a 5-kilometre (3-mile) wide plume rising into the air about 20 kilometers (12 miles).

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

The National Emergency Management Agency said some parts of New Zealand could expect “strong, unusual currents and unexpected eruptions on shore after a major volcanic eruption”.

The volcano is located 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital, Nuku’alofa. In late 2014 and early 2015, a series of volcanic eruptions in the area created a new small island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Tonga is home to about 105,000 people.

Associated Press writers Marie Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Philly Sajabolotelli from Pago Pago, American Samoa contributed to this report.

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