The tsunami threat in the Pacific Ocean subsides, but volcanic ash from eruptions prevents reaction

The tsunami threat around the Pacific Ocean from a huge underwater volcanic eruption subsided on Sunday, but the massive ash cloud that covered the small island nation of Tonga prevented surveillance flights from New Zealand from assessing the extent of the damage.

Satellite images showed the spectacular eruption Saturday night, where a cloud of ash, steam and gas rose like a sponge over the blue Pacific waters. A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska.

In Tonga, it sent tsunami waves crashing across the coast and people rushed to higher terrain.

The outbreak cut the internet to Tonga, leaving friends and family members around the world anxiously trying to get in touch to hear if there were any injuries. Even government websites and other official sources remained without updates on Sunday afternoon.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there had been no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga – located about 2,400 kilometers north of New Zealand – but she warned authorities had not yet contacted any coastal areas and smaller areas. Islands.

A white flag is shown rising over Tonga during Saturday’s eruption of the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, pictured here from the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (CIRA / NOAA / Reuters)

“Communication with Tonga remains very limited. And I know it causes a huge amount of anxiety for Tongan society here,” Ardern said.

She said there had been significant damage to boats and shops along the Tongan coastline. The capital, Nuku’alofa, was covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, Ardern said, polluting water supplies and making fresh water a vital need.

A couple examine a damaged boat in a marina in Tutukaka, New Zealand, on Sunday. (Tanya White / Northern Advocate / NZME / The Associated Press)

‘Humiliating and scary’ performance

Aid agencies said thick ash and smoke had prompted authorities to ask people to wear masks and drink bottled water.

In a video posted on Facebook, Nightingale Filihia was sheltered in her family home from a rain of volcanic ash and small pieces of rock that made the sky carbon black.

SE | Submarine volcano erupts in Pacific Ocean, forcing Tonga residents to escape tsunami:

Submarine volcano erupts in Pacific Ocean, forcing islanders in Tonga to flee tsunami

An underwater volcano erupted near the Pacific nation of Tonga, sending tsunami waves that crashed across the coast and people rushed to higher ground. 1:50

“It’s really bad. They told us to stay indoors and cover our doors and windows because it’s dangerous,” she said. “I felt sorry for the people. Everyone just froze when the explosion happened. We hurried home.” Outside the house, people were seen carrying umbrellas for protection.

Ardern said New Zealand was unable to send a surveillance flight over Tonga on Sunday because the ash cloud was 19,000 meters high, but it hoped to try again on Monday, followed by supply planes and naval ships.

A complicating factor for any international aid effort is that Tonga has so far managed to avoid outbreaks of COVID-19. Ardern said New Zealand’s military staff were all fully vaccinated and willing to follow any protocols established by Tonga.

Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, said it was very unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect an entire ocean basin, and the sight was both “humiliating and frightening.”

An aerial photo shows capsized boats in Muroto in Japan’s Kochi Prefecture. It is believed that they were flooded in the tsunami caused by an underwater volcanic eruption near the island of Tonga in the South Pacific. (Kyodo / Reuters)

The tsunami waves caused damage to both as far away as New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California, but did not appear to cause any widespread damage. Snider said he expected the tsunami situation in the United States and elsewhere to continue to improve.

Tsunami warnings were previously issued for Canada, in four zones in coastal British Columbia – and in Japan, Chile, Hawaii, Alaska and the US Pacific coast. The US Geological Survey estimated that the eruption caused the equivalent of an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8. Researchers said tsunamis generated by volcanoes instead of earthquakes are relatively rare.

2 women in Peru swept away by waves

Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau, chair of the New Zealand Tonga Business Council, said she hoped the relatively low level of tsunami waves would have allowed most people to get to safety, even though she was worried about those living there. on the islands closest to the volcano. She said she had not yet been able to contact her friends and family in Tonga.

“We pray that the damage is only to the infrastructure and that people were able to get to higher land,” she said.

People are evacuating the coastline of Vina del Mar, Chile, following a tsunami alert issued Saturday. (Rodrigo Garrido / Reuters)

Tonga gets its internet via a submarine cable from Suva, Fiji. All internet connection with Tonga was lost around noon. 18.40 local time Saturday, said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis for network intelligence firm Kentik.

In Tonga, home to about 105,000 people, video posted on social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas and swirling around homes, a church and other buildings. A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau posted a video showing waves crashing ashore.

“Can literally hear the volcanic eruption, it sounds pretty violent,” he wrote, adding in a later post: “Ash is raining and small pebbles, darkness is covering the sky.”

After Saturday’s eruption, residents of Hawaii, Alaska and along the U.S. Pacific coast were advised to move away from the coast to higher terrain.

In the northern Peruvian Lambayeque region, two women drowned after being swept away by “abnormal waves” after the eruption, authorities said. A dozen restaurants and a coastal street were also flooded along El Chaco Beach in the Paracas district.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, about 64 kilometers north of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa, was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions. In late 2014 and early 2015, eruptions created a small new island and disrupted international flights to the Pacific Group for several days.

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