Volcano erupting in the Pacific Ocean; Tsunami waves hit Tonga

By NICK PERRY

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – An underwater volcano erupted spectacularly Saturday near the Pacific nation of Tonga, sending tsunami waves crashing across the coast and people rushing to higher ground. Tsunami alerts were issued for Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Pacific coast.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of the damage because all internet connection with Tonga was lost around 1 p.m. 18.40 local time, said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis for network intelligence firm Kentik.

Tonga gets its internet through a submarine cable from Suva, Fiji, which was presumably damaged. The company that manages that connection, Southern Cross Cable Network, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Tonga’s Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops evacuated King Tupou VI from his palace near the coast. He was among the many inhabitants who set course for higher ground.

In Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves measuring half a meter (1.6 feet) in Nawiliwili, Kauai and 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) in Hanalei. The National Weather Service said there were reports of boats being pushed up into the harbor, but the danger diminished as the morning went on.

“We are relieved that no damage and only minor flooding have been reported across the islands,” said the tsunami center, which describes the situation in Hawaii. The tsunami alert for the islands was lifted about 11 hours after the eruption more than 4,828 kilometers (3,000 miles) away.

In Tonga, home to about 105,000 people, videos posted on social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, swirling around houses, a church and other buildings. Satellite images showed a huge eruption, with a cloud of ash, steam and gas rising like a sponge over the blue Pacific waters.

The New Zealand military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to assist if requested.

Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami alert was issued for the entire archipelago, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Center said waves of 80 centimeters (2.7 feet) were detected.

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: “Raining ash and small pebbles, darkness covers the sky.”

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

Earth imaging firm Planet Labs PBC had seen the island in recent days after a new volcanic eruption began to erupt in late December.

Satellite images taken by the company show how drastically the volcano had shaped the area and created a growing island off Tonga.

“The island’s surface area appears to have expanded by nearly 45% due to ash fall,” Planet Labs said days before the latest activity.

After Saturday’s eruption, residents of Hawaii, Alaska and along the U.S. Pacific coast were advised to move away from the shoreline to higher terrain and heed specific instructions from their local emergency management officials, said Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer. , Alaska.

“We’re not issuing a guide for this length of coastline that we’ve done – I’m not sure when the last time was – but it’s really not an everyday experience,” Snider said.

He said the waves hitting Hawaii were just below the criteria for a more severe tsunami alert.

“It looks like everything will remain below the warning level, but it’s hard to predict because this is a volcanic eruption and we’re set up to measure earthquakes or seismically driven ocean waves,” Snider said.

The first waves to hit the continental United States measured about 30 centimeters (1 foot) in Nikolski and Adak, Alaska. A wave of about 20 centimeters (0.7 feet) was observed in Monterey, California, the US National Tsunami Warning Center said in a tweet.

Beaches and piers were closed over Southern California as a precautionary measure. The National Weather Service tweeted that there were “no significant flood concerns.” Strong tear currents were possible, however, and officials warned people to stay out of the water.

On California’s central coast, the National Weather Service reported tsunami waves of up to 2.5 feet (0.76 meters) and flooding in beach parking lots at Port San Luis. About 200 miles (320 km) down the coast, the waves were much smaller at Southern California’s Seal Beach, according to Michael Pless, owner of M&M Surf School.

“The waves look pretty flat,” Pless said. “We hope they reopen the beach in a few hours.”

Crowds gathered at Santa Cruz Harbor in California to watch the rising and falling water push the boat connections at the harbor. Law enforcement was trying to clear people away when big waves started around 7:30 p.m.

About an hour later, a wave swept over the back edge of the harbor, filling a parking lot and low-lying streets and causing some cars to float. In 2011 after the Japanese earthquake, a series of waves cost $ 20 million in damage to the port.

Residents of American Samoa were warned of a tsunami alert by local broadcasters as well as church bells ringing across the territory on Saturday. An outdoor siren warning system was out of order. Those living along the coastline quickly moved to higher terrain.

As night fell, there were no reports of injuries and the Hawaii-based tsunami center canceled the alarm.

Authorities in the nearby island nations of Fiji and Samoa also issued warnings, telling people to avoid the shoreline due to strong currents and dangerous waves. In New Zealand, officials warned of possible storm surges from the eruption.

New Zealand’s private weather forecast, Weather Watch, tweeted that people as far away as Southland, the country’s southernmost region, reported hearing sonic booms from the eruption. Others reported that many boats were damaged by a tsunami that hit a marina in Whangarei in the Northland region.

Earlier, news site Matangi Tonga reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder and lightning near the volcano after it began erupting early Friday. Satellite images showed a 5-kilometer-wide flag rising in the air to about 20 kilometers (12 miles).

Hunga Tonga The Hunga Ha’apai volcano is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital Nuku’alofa. In late 2014 and early 2015, a series of eruptions in the area created a small new island and disrupted international flights to the Pacific Group for several days.

There is not a significant difference between volcanoes underwater and on land, and underwater volcanoes get bigger as they erupt, and at some point they usually break the surface, said Hans Schwaiger, a research geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

With underwater volcanoes, however, the water can increase the explosiveness of the eruption when it hits the lava, Schwaiger added.

Before an explosion, there is generally an increase in small local earthquakes at the volcano, but depending on how far it is from land, it can not be felt by residents along the coastline, Schwaiger said.

In 2019, Tonga lost Internet access for nearly two weeks when a fiber optic cable was disconnected. The director of the local cable company said at the time that a large ship may have cut the cable across by pulling an anchor. Until limited satellite access was restored, people could not even make international calls.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California, Frank Bajak in Boston, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, American Samoa, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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